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Out of the Vault

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Several months ago, when Chicagoan Jim Finn discovered that the Chicago Public Library was closing its 16-millimeter film collection--not surprising given the cost of upkeep and declining use--he started doing everything he could to rally public interest in preserving this material, attempting something comparable to what writer Nicholson Baker has done for preserving newspapers. As a consequence of Finn's passion, two extended programs will be offered this weekend and next that showcase a small portion of the old film collection at the Harold Washington Library--a rich array of material ranging from documentaries to children's films to two of Luis Bunuel's best Mexican features. This weekend's highlighted categories are "Rats and Apes" (three programs), "Africa to Afghanistan" (one program), "Revolution and the Little Children" (two programs), and "The Charm of Old Chicago" (two programs). It looks like a compendium of priceless, irreplaceable work. All the programs will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, and admission is free; for more information call 312-346-3278 (recorded information) or 312-744-6630. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23

The Secret of NIMH

An animated feature by Don Bluth, who led a group of fed-up animators away from Disney in 1980. Based on an award-winning children's book about a field mouse, Mrs. Brisby, who enlists the aid of a colony of superintelligent rats to move her family home away from the path of a farmer's plow, the film is an impressive technical achievement: the full-figure animation is dimensional and elegant, the perspectives imaginative, and the color design superb. But without the (old) Disney genius for emotional structure and character design, the results are rather flat--the film concentrates on Disney horror and trauma without the relief of Disney charm. With its strong maternal theme, it suggests a less cute version of Poltergeist. Not enthralling, but a must-see for anyone interested in the mechanics of this arcane art (1982, 84 min.). (DK) On the same program, Curious George (1972, 14 min.) and Zoo Animals in the Wild: Apes (1981, 5 min.). (5:00)

Otto: Zoo Gorilla

An hour-long documentary from 1978, showing with Great Apes (1977, 24 min.). (7:00)

Ratapolis

An hour-long film from 1981, showing with The Ugly Little Boy (1977, 25 min.). (8:30)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24

Africa to Afghanistan

Half a dozen short films: Africa, the Emodia Family (1990, 20 min.), Lights, Action, Africa! (1983, 55 min.), Congo: The Way Ahead (1963, 25 min.), Nasser, the People's Pharaoh (1980, 25 min.), Iran (1972, 18 min.), and Glassmakers of Herat (1980, 25 min.). (5:00)

Malcolm X

Not the Spike Lee feature, but an hour-long documentary from 1978. On the same program, Soviet Union: Nina's World (1991, 19 min.), Cuba and Fidel (1976, 24 min.), and Orange and the Green (1969, 21 min.). (7:45)

Los olvidados (The Young and the Damned)

Luis Bunuel's discovery of feral youth, made in the slums of Mexico City in 1950. Bunuel's apparent lack of compassion for his juvenile delinquents is what finally makes the film an unusually powerful social document and a disturbing piece of drama. He explains them with neither sympathy nor sentiment, but simply produces the brutal facts of their lives. Gabriel Figueroa, the great Mexican cameraman, contributes a harsh black-and-white image that transcends documentary--it's real life, only more so. 88 min. (DK) (9:45)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25

The Charm of Old Chicago

Four films: Tenement (1967, 40 min.), Urban Crisis: Law and Order vs. Dissent (1969, 7 min.), Stockyards: End of an Era (1973, 60 min.), and Urban Crisis: Battle for Michigan Avenue (1969, 7 min.). (5:00)

The Last Pullman Car

An hour-long political documentary from 1984 by the Chicago-based Kartemquin Films Collective, about the closing of Pullman Standard's South Chicago plant and the employees' futile attempts to keep it open. On the same program, Urban Crisis: Police Power and the Freedom of Assembly (1969, 7 min.) and Zookeepers (1981, 29 min.). (7:00)

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