Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Help Bring Olympic History to Light on the Silver Screen in Time for 2016

Olympic movie and history buffs have an opportunity to help get a potential five-ringed gem to the silver screen in time for next year's film festival season and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Through the crowdfunding site Seed & Spark, now through March 17, anyone may contribute funds to help complete the documentary "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" by Atlanta-based filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper, whose team seeks to bring to light the seldom-heard stories of African American Olympians who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympiad.

For more specifics on the donation process, click the links above or scroll to the base of this post, post-haste.

Paraphrasing the film synopsis: "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" will be a feature length documentary exploring the trials and triumphs of 18 African American athletes who represented Team USA in Germany.

Set against the strained and turbulent atmosphere of a racially divided America -- torn between boycotting Hitler’s Olympics and participating in the Third Reich’s grandest feat of propaganda -- the film follows 16 men and two women as they prepared for, traveled to, competed in and returned from Berlin.

With an Olympian-level blend of grace and dignity, these athletes represented a nation that considered them second class citizens, and their competitions took place in a nation that rolled out the red carpet in spite of an undercurrent of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism.

I spoke with Riley Draper, who explained the idea for the film started with research of a jazz singer from Chattanooga who later was reportedly interned by the Nazis. Articles on the musician included references to African American Olympians who competed in Berlin, and as Riley Draper gained some Olympic experiences and interest during a U.S. Track & Field assignment at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the seldom-heard stories of these athletes stuck with her.

Though many know the story of Jesse Owens' feats on the track in Berlin, the other 17 black athletes'
experiences are known to comparatively few.

"I wanted to bring to light these heroes who created a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement," said Riley Draper.

Research for "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" yielded that the 18 athletes came from across the U.S., with attendance at big colleges as a common thread among the "great student athletes" selected for Team USA. Some medaled in Berlin, though with considerably less fanfare than Owens.

Riley Draper said some of the athletes also made the cut, while more did not, for the original Olympic documentary film, Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia." And in one case, the German filmmaker
stirred the political pot in the 1936 Cultural Olympiad by displaying images of black U.S. athletes she snapped as artsy photographs during her trip to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

One U.S. athlete set as part of the new film is Jack Wilson, the silver medalist in boxing. Another is Archie Williams, who won gold in the 400m race.

And in high jump, Cornelius Johnson and David Albritton earned gold and silver, respectively, while teammate Delos Thurber also made the podium for bronze (a clean sweep). As rising stars, Albritton and Owens lived parallel lives as rural Alabama natives who succeeded on the track.

I personally look forward to learning more about Johnson and all of the athletes to be profiled through “Olympic Price, American Prejudice.”

Back to the film’s synopsis: "The athletes experienced things that they were not expecting -- applause, warm welcomes, an integrated Olympic Village and the respect of their competitors. They were heroes on the world’s stage who returned home to find only short-lived glory. Their story is complicated … a vital part of history as relevant today as it was almost 80 years ago."

Riley Draper and her team plan to “utilize the wealth of newsreel material, newspaper articles, photographs, personal interviews and never-before-seen footage as well as resources from the personal archival collections of Olympians and Foundations in both the U.S. and Germany.”

She also said research to date included a wealth of detail provided by archives managed by the LA84 Foundation, the National Archives and the Avery Brundage Collection at the University of Illinois.

When I asked the extent to which the International Olympic Committee/Olympic Museum, U.S. Olympic Committee, International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) or travels to other domestic or international archives are on the filmmaker’s wish list (as part of their fundraising goals), Riley Draper said she was open to additional sources but travel to Berlin to capture in-stadium footage -- and more interviews of surviving athletes or spectators -- tops the list.

The crowdfunding site lists several types of equipment needs, expenses for everything from insurance and narration to image licensing, and travel items.

Donations of as little as $1 or in the form of Delta Air Lines SkyMiles are accepted, and donor who provide at higher levels may opt-in to pre-release perks (including an on-screen credit as a supporter). For readers who choose to contribute, please consider doing so by selecting this blog and/or blogger as the source providing referral to Seed & Spark.

Thank you for your part in bringing “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” to the big screen. Additional information is also available via the film’s official site, 1936OlympicsMovie.com.

Images via www.1936OlympicsMovie.com

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sentimental About Sochi

Time flies, too often at an Olympic sprint pace. It hardly seems possible the Sochi Olympics opened one year ago.

Reflecting on February 7, 2014, brings back many fun moments from the day (including a visit to USA House at the Olympic Park), the electric buzz of Putin and the Olympic Torch Relay passing through Central Sochi, and finally the spectacular Opening Ceremony.

For this blogger, the early ceremony video highlighting the Cyrillic alphabet (see below) was one big takeaway -- I've spent many moments of the last year referring back to it and studying the many historic references it includes as clues to Russian culture.

I was also impressed by the technology used to create the parade of nations pathway with details on each national Olympic committee as its athletes entered the stadium. And it was fun to see Maria Sharapova carry in the Olympic flame.

Many Russian friends met during the Sochi experience posted their own photos in honor of the anniversary, indicative, I think, of the national pride the event bestowed (I'm kind of down on the post-Games naysaying about the venues and too-expensive government investment, though I acknowledge and concur the excesses should lead to an evolving list of reforms).

Anyone reading this also have a favorite Sochi memory to share? Please post in comments.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Celadon Icon Coming Soon to the High

Ranking the world's most recognized logos or icons, few are on par with the Olympic rings.

And when it comes to most recognized brands, Coca-Cola is also tough to beat.

Coke is also known for famous product packages -- starting with the "contour bottle" -- and the South's leading art museum is preparing to host an exhibition in celebration of the container's 100th anniversary.

As noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and via museum press materials, the exhibition “The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100” will open Feb. 28.

It's all happening in the home town of the Atlanta-based beverage giant, in the galleries of the High Museum of Art (a client).

Since its inception in 1915, the Coca-Cola “contour bottle” became one of the world's most recognized icons. Originally designed by a team at the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Ind., the bottle emerged as a distinct package for an already ubiquitous product launched in 1886.

The design was the result of a competition challenging bottle manufacturers to develop a container recognizable even if broken or touched in the dark.

The winning design’s curves and celadon-tinted glass ultimately had an outstanding impact on 20th-century visual art and culture (the term "bottle green" eventually followed in the realm of color nomenclature). 

The exhibition features over 100 objects, including more than 15 works by Andy Warhol and dozens
of photographs inspired by or featuring the bottle. The items will be arranged in sections by history, photography and pop art (no pun intended).

When I first learned of this exhibition, it intrigued me given its overlap with the World of Coca-Cola's year-long exhibition of Howard Finster folk art works featuring, inspired by or painted on actual contour bottles of varying size.

It also surprised me the High is not including its own Finster/Coke item (a hand-painted, oversized contour bottle) from the museum's permanent collection in the exhibition. But then, Finster's painted items don't fit the trio of exhibition sections.

Another permanent collection item -- a vintage magazine illustration (ad) featuring a couple with two six-bottle cartons -- also remains behind-the-scenes, as does a 1974 bottle-free Elliott Erwitt image of a Coke vending machine positioned with several rockets.

Only time will tell whether the High will mount the permanent collection Coke items in tandem with "An American Icon at 100" (I hope they do).

Briefly getting back to the Olympic rings, their creator -- modern Olympic founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin -- first sketched and hand-colored the design in 1913 and 1914 as a single row of intertwined circles, just a year or two ahead of the guys in Indiana embarking on their bottle contest entry.

Whether de Coubertin was inspired by five pre-contour bottle condensation rings (on his desk or table as he sipped a Coke while sketching) is one iconic backstory we may never know.

Images via the High Museum of Art. Image credits:

-- nendo (Japanese, founded Tokyo, 2002) Bottleware, 2012. Photo c. The Coca-Cola Company. Diagram courtesy of nendo
-- Jan Saudek (Czech, born 1935), Broken Bottle, 1973. Collection of Joyce Linker. c. Jan Saudek
-- Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Three Coke Bottles, 1962, silkscreen, ink and graphite on linen, The Andy  Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, Inc., 1998.1.20 c. 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists

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