The award-winning nonprofit production company Kartemquin Films is donating the physical materials in its archives to Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive (FMA).
Since its founding in 1966 by a collective of working filmmakers, Kartemquin has produced 70+ documentary films that focus on social justice issues and the experiences of marginalized groups. Based in Chicago, the organization’s films have received numerous honors, including six Emmy Awards, three Peabody Awards, and four Academy Award nominations. Kartemquin’s archives span more than five decades of independent filmmaking on diverse subjects including health care, urban youth, race, labor, gentrification, immigration, aging, and gender.
The FMA will receive an extensive collection of materials from Kartemquin that includes 3,500 cans of film, over 11,000 videotapes, more than 2,000 audio items, and 440 boxes of papers. These materials include about 40 official releases spanning 1966–2010, including documentary classics such as Home for Life, Inquiring Nuns, The Chicago Maternity Center, The Last Pullman Car, Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and The New Americans.
The gift signals the start of an ongoing relationship between the two organizations. Together, they will work to promote Kartemquin’s important filmmaking legacy. Given its size and scope, the collection will take some time to process, but the FMA plans to work swiftly to provide access to Kartemquin’s production and corporate papers, care for and process analog and tape-based collections, and plan for the preservation of digital materials. In a second phase of the donation, the FMA will receive Kartemquin’s digital productions.
The FMA was selected to receive the collection because of its work on two major restoration projects involving Henry Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize interviews. Those projects reflect the FMA’s dedication to providing access to the totality of a documentary production rather than just the finished film, allowing for new types of scholarship.
Additionally, the two organizations share a commitment to social justice and to chronicling and preserving the stories of underrepresented people. There are political and stylistic connections between Kartemquin’s films and FMA documentary collections such as the Henry Hampton Collection, the William Miles Collection, and the Jack Willis Collection.
“Kartemquin has an expressed commitment to preserving their productions, and it’s an honor to be the organization that they chose to take over this work,” Andy Uhrich, curator of Film & Media at the University Libraries, says.
“This is a major acquisition that expands our collections to the current day, as Kartemquin is still making important documentaries,” Uhrich says. “I think it makes us a leader in the preservation of American documentary film from the last half of the twentieth century.”
“The acquisition of a vast, complicated production collection like Kartemquin’s can serve as a roadmap for collecting and preserving independent film collections,” Kartemquin’s Consulting Archivist, Carolyn Faber, said. “WashU’s experience with the complexities of the Eyes on the Prize collection strengthened our confidence in their ability to manage Kartemquin’s.”
“Kartemquin is thrilled to be working with Washington University Film and Media Archive on this project. We have spent years researching where the work of our filmmakers should be preserved, and we feel confident that we have made the right choice with Washington University,” said Gordon Quinn, Kartemquin Co-Founder and Artistic Director. “We look forward to moving the collection over the next few years and collaborating on academic and public programming as the materials become more accessible.”
Sparking democracy through documentary since 1966, Kartemquin is a collaborative center empowering filmmakers who create documentaries that foster a more engaged and just society. The organization’s films have received four Academy Award® nominations, and won six Emmys® and three Peabody Awards, among several more major prizes, including multiple Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards, and duPont-Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards.
In 2019, Kartemquin was honored with an Institutional Peabody Award for “its commitment to unflinching documentary filmmaking and telling an American history rooted in social justice and the stories of the marginalized.” Recognized as a leading advocate for independent public media, Kartemquin has helped hundreds of artists via its filmmaker development programs and championing of the documentary field.
Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in Chicago.
About the Film & Media Archive
A unit of the Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections, the Film & Media Archive collects, preserves, and makes accessible documentary film and other media that chronicle the political and social injustices of the 20th century and beyond.
The Archive also preserves the documentary filmmaking process in its entirety through the acquisition of production elements and supporting materials, such as original filmed interviews and outtakes, rare stock footage, photographs, producers’ research and notes, treatments, scripts, storyboards, and correspondence. The Archive was established in 2001 after the University Libraries acquired the collections of Blackside Inc., the largest African-American-owned film production company of its day.