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Symposium to Highlight Study of Unique Films Preserved at University of Arizona Special Collections

Date: May 3, 2012

Times: 3:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Location:   Special Collections

Contact: VerĂ³nica Reyes-Escudero


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 to be allowed scholarly access to the Wolfgang collection. The results of their intensive study will be shared at the 2012 Student Research Symposium on Thursday, May 3, from 3:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. in Special Collections. The event is free and open to the public.

Hosted by Special Collections and the UA Department of English, the symposium will highlight the interdisciplinary study of filmmaking and storytelling as a means toward cultural understanding. The graduate students will explore four categories of film during the event, with special attention to the work of Ken Wolfgang:

•    Hollywood & Film Theory
•    Cinematic Mexico
•    Adaptation: Page/Stage/Big Screen/Small Screen
•    Ken Wolfgang, 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 – 1980s. Ken 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 like National Geographic and film producer Walt Disney.

In addition to sharing the students’ research efforts, the symposium also launches 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 who are 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.

To contribute to the Ken Wolfgang & Kendra Gaines Library Endowment or to apply for endowment support for related studies please contact Laura Bender, director of development for the Libraries, at benderl@u.library.arizona.edu or (520) 621-3485.  

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