Black Film Center/Archive resident Greg de Cuir unearths hidden treasures

Audrey Deiser • Jan. 29, 2018

With little fanfare, Black Film Center/Archive archivist Ronda Sewald pulled gloves onto her hands. She carefully opened the large box sitting on the end of the table, and slid out a faux chimney made of cardboard and covered in signatures.

Greg de Cuir sitting at a table listening to people talk.
Greg de Cuir Jr. is an independent curator and researcher in residence at the IU Black Film Center/Archive. He is primarily interested in contemporary avant-garde and documentary media programs. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

“And here we have the handprints of Maya Angelou,” she said.

Casper Banjo was a Memphis-born artist who specialized in embossed print and mixed media artwork. One of his projects was a version of the Hollywood walk of fame, but instead of plaster, it was handprints made of graphite and Vaseline. The BFC/A houses a selection of these prints.

“I think I might faint,” said Elijah Pouges, a senior in The Media School.

“Faint that way!” said Sewald, laughing and gesturing away from the fragile print.

Everyone pulled out their phones and camera apps and crowded around the prints with looks of disbelief on their faces.

Woman holding a faux chimney and showing it to a table of people.
Ronda L. Sewald, an archivist at the Black Film Center/Archive, gently showcases the chimney suitcase to the room. This contains the handprints and signatures of revered individuals in the black film industry. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

The reveal was part of a Show & Tell Workshop on Friday by Greg de Cuir Jr., a film curator undertaking a week-long research residency at IU. De Cuir also curated a film series earlier in the week.

De Cuir spent his time combing through the archive, looking particularly closely at the history of black film festivals at IU and around the world. IU’s first black film festival was held in 1983 by Phyllis Klotman, the founder and champion of the BFC/A.

“I don’t know how many other black film festivals were happening at that time,” de Cuir said. “It could be one of the first. It’s definitely worth further research to see what IU’s place is in black film.”

Maya Angelou's handprint and signature on white paper.
As part of his Show & Tell Workshop, de Cuir displayed the handprint and signature of Maya Angelou. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

De Cuir said he is interested in film festivals because it’s one of the newer and more interesting areas of film studies. The archive has programs from the first few black film festivals sponsored by IU and editing prints from Black Camera, a BFC/A journal also started by Klotman.

De Cuir passed around the prints and joked, “This is back when cut and paste was actually cut and paste!”

For now, de Cuir will return to his home in Belgrade, Serbia, where he works as a selector for Alternative Film/Video and Beldocs.

De Cuir expressed wishes to return to IU and further study the archive’s contents. He said he would love to see an exhibit of Banjo’s prints sometime in the future, and hopes to see a student-made documentary of the BFC/a someday.

More: