Doc Films was born in the 1930s as “The Documentary Film Group,” a group sustained mainly by the inspiration and willpower of a core group of dedicated individuals. Somehow, almost shockingly, it has survived into the present moment—80 years since its inception—and continues to rely on a small group of extremely committed volunteers. These include audience members, film programmers, projectionists, archivists, librarians, assistant projectionists, show captains, shipping coordinators, and ticket sellers; there are even people who are known as “posternauts.”
Some things have changed. Doc is in a more stable position than it has been in the past, when films were shown in the darkened corners of the Social Sciences building and then the “recitation hall” in Cobb. Doc now occupies a movie theater built in 1986 with a generous donation from the famous Max Palevsky.
Big donation aside, and despite Doc’s usefulness in attracting students, it is chronically underfunded and undervalued by the University with which it is supposedly associated. Doc has been largely left to fend for itself, forced to fight vigorously each year for financial support.
We, the volunteers, mostly students, fight this fight. We are here only briefly, living Doc intensely for a few years and then leaving it behind. As part of my contribution, I decided to create this non-exhaustive, highly subjective photographic catalogue—which barely scratches the surface—documenting “a sliver of a sliver of a sliver,” as they say, of my last twelve quarters at Doc. The project came out of a feeling of necessity. Institutional memory is more fragile than ever, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the promises of the digital archive. Without an official history for Doc besides mentions in a few newspaper articles, this project offers a mode of documentation that is a step towards something longer-lasting.
These images are a preview of a longer publication that will be released at the beginning of June and available in the lobby of the Max Palevsky Cinema for free. For more, see docfilms.uchicago.edu.