As a major visual and narrative art form of the 20th century, cinema can offer insight into little-known, or perhaps little-understood, peoples, traditions and cultures.
This spring, two film collections – the recently acquired Ken Wolfgang Archival Film Collection in Special Collections and the online American Indian Film Gallery – provided a unique cultural and archival research opportunity for graduate students in the English department.
Under the direction of Jennifer Jenkins, associate professor of English, the 14 students enrolled in "History and Theory of Film" were the first allowed scholarly access to the Wolfgang collection.
The results of their intensive study will be shared at the 2012 Student Research Symposium. The event will be held May 3 from 3-7:30 p.m. in the UA's Special Collections, 1510 E. University Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.
Hosted by Special Collections and the UA English department, the symposium will highlight the interdisciplinary study of filmmaking and storytelling as a means toward cultural understanding.
In addition to sharing students' research efforts, the symposium also will launch the newly established Ken Wolfgang & Kendra Gaines Library Endowment for the purpose of continuing the tradition of filmmaking as storytelling and cultural introduction.
Graduate students from across the disciplines who are pursuing projects involving film as an historical aesthetic or cultural medium or developing script projects may apply for endowment support.
Awards will be granted for research and research-related activities conducted in the film and associated collections housed at UA Special Collections.
During the symposium, and with special attention to the work of Wolfgang, the graduate students will explore four categories of film during the event: Hollywood and film theory, cinematic Mexico, adaptation (page, stage, big and small screen) and also Wolfgang's archival film representations of Mexico.
Donated to Special Collections in 2011 by his wife, professor Kendra Gaines, the Ken Wolfgang Archival Film Collection includes full-length independently produced travelogue films that share rare glimpses of world cultures including Japan, India, Thailand, Singapore, Austria and Mexico from the 1950s to the 1980s. The UA's Special Collections has curated the archives, making them available to students, educators and the general public.
Wolfgang was a self-taught filmmaker who relied on his innate storytelling ability to authentically document the daily lives of people from little known, and often misunderstood, parts of the world.
His films succeeded in sharing stories that had not been told before, stories about people and places who were quite unknown to American audiences. Wolfgang presented his films throughout the country on the U.S. travel film lecture circuit.
For each showing, he wrote his own scripts, chose his own music and sound effects, and did his own live narration to large audiences as the film was projected. His work was nationally recognized by organizations such as National Geographic and film producer Walt Disney.