March 18, 2022

Yasmin Desouki from Chicago Film Archives
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Yasmin Desouki, Collections Manager, Chicago Film Archives

This seventh installment of CCC's Member Spotlight series features an interview with Chicago Film Archives Collections Manager Yasmin Desouki.

Tell us about yourself and your role at the Chicago Film Archives

My name is Yasmin Desouki, and I am an audiovisual archivist and writer currently based in Chicago. I work as the Collections Manager at Chicago Film Archives (CFA), and it's a role that sometimes requires that I wear many hats. I am responsible for the intake of all new collections, and generally oversee the processing and stabilizing of  our collections, working with the wonderful team here to ensure that our archival holdings are made accessible to a wide audience. In sum, my role entails collection building and policy development, and the core responsibilities are to preserve and identify records that are in service of CFA's mandate of safeguarding the moving image heritage of the Midwest. In addition, I do take on some programmatic work at times, and currently oversee the production of our annual Media Mixer event, through which we invite film and sound artists to delve into our collections and come up with three unique and distinct short films inspired by the archives.

How did you become involved in the work of Chicago Collections?

I was excited to learn about an organization that helps to centralize the work of archival repositories in this rich and dynamic city, one which builds bridges between various organizations with different focuses but who all share the same goal of safeguarding cultural heritage. I've worked in archives in other big cities before moving to Chicago, and the biggest challenge was often simply knowing what collections are out there, and how to become involved. So, as soon as I learned about the CCC, I knew that it would be a great opportunity for CFA to become involved and highlight our collections.

Which collections are you most looking forward to sharing on EXPLORE in the future?

CFA acquired a few important dance collections in the past few years; the Ruth Page Collection and the Helen Morrison Sybil Shearer Collection. I think the latter in particular tends to fly under the radar, but it's a great collection that beautifully captures Shearer's excellent work.

I also hope to share work from the Rhodes Patterson Collection, documentary shorts from Tom Palazzolo's Collection, and also highlight the work of The Film Group - a Chicago-based commercial film production company that made commercials but also political documentaries in the late 1960s and early 70s. Two of their films have been added to the National Film Registry; the first being 1966's Cicero March, and more recently 1971's Murder of Fred Hamptopn (this was just added in 2021).

What is the best part of your job?

Looking through a film reel and finding that not only has it stood firm against the ravages of time, but that the footage looks pretty interesting, too!

Also, I do like hearing from people who have stumbled across our films via our website or on YouTube, revealing a special connection they've had with the film. Sometimes they recognize themselves in the film, and other times they recognize a grandparent or a distant relative. It's always exciting when that sort of serendipitous discovery occurs, and hearing the backstories people have about the film is fun and a big reason why I love doing this work.

Tell us about a Chicagoan represented in your collections who people may not be familiar with?

I'm not sure if people aren't familiar with them, but perhaps they're figures that don't necessarily get the attention they deserve: Fred Hampton is one, and so is Bobby Lee, both of which people can learn more about through the films The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) and American Revolution 2 (1969), respectively. Also, Luther Pollard is one of the early silent film producers and had started Ebony Film Co., but he's not very well known. Anyone who is interested can view the documentary film The Very Last Laugh (1976) in our William Franklin Grisham Collection, which features the only known filmed interview with Pollard.