Why don’t more people know about Amos Vogel? Granted, there are few film curators/exhibitors who achieve notoriety on a level of the filmmakers themselves. But Vogel is different. His model of a film society radically transformed how cinema is discussed and experienced as an artform. While film societies flourished in both the pre- and post-war periods from Europe to America, Vogel’s commitment to building an informed, well-rounded audience is something special and unique. Cinema 16 film screenings often included films by amateurs, educational films, and other cinematic artifacts alongside works by luminaries such as Roberto Rossellini, Jean Vigo and Dziga Vertov. In fact, Vogel’s achievements contributed to my enduring obsession with underground cinema—though I wasn’t even aware of it until much later in life. Perhaps it was through cultural osmosis that I had subconsciously absorbed his vision, and by the time I understood his contribution to film exhibition, I saw in him a kindred spirit.
After a brief stint as Print Traffic Coordinator/House Manager at International House Philadelphia, I made my way to New York City as an aspiring film/video artist. New York, of course, is a ferociously competitive world—not to mention an expensive place to live—so I applied the little time and money I had to attending film screenings around the city. From MoMA to Anthology Film Archives, I was determined to see as many works from the world of underground and experimental cinema as possible, and, most importantly, to see them on film. This was, of course, long after Cinema 16 had ceased to exist but Amos had already made his mark, and my intake of films was just as diverse and enlightening as Amos’ original program.
Returning to Philadelphia in 2002, I found myself once again at International House and I was ready to apply all that I’d learned in New York to my work as a film programmer. It was then that I encountered the name Amos Vogel and began to understand all of the groundwork he’d laid for contemporary film programming. Vogel’s time at the University of Pennsylvania is clearly a high watermark in the history of film culture in the city of Philadelphia and for those of us still working here, it’s impossible not to reference him in one way or another.
For me, personally, Vogel’s ideas of challenging audience expectations and taking risks in curating are fundamental to my approach to conceptualizing programs. I am consistently spellbound by the exceptional moving-image work I see in galleries, museums and cinemas, and my drive to share as much of that work with Philadelphia audiences is a testament to what Amos created with Cinema 16 decades ago. Thank you, Amos.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.