Founder of the legendary Cinema 16 Film Society, Amos Vogel (b. 1921) changed the exhibition and distribution landscape for independent cinema in America. Born in Austria, Vogel came to the United States in 1939, and soon pursued his interest in cinema—and his desire to see inaccessible films—by exploring then-unchartered waters: the prospect of an individual locating, renting, and publicly exhibiting non-fiction and avant-garde films in New York City venues. With his wife Marcia, Vogel established the Cinema 16 Film Society in 1947, moving into film distribution in 1948. Vogel steadily built the collection in the ensuing decade, drawing heavily from the world of avant-garde cinema. Cinema 16’s catalog of over two hundred films by more than one hundred filmmakers was rented nationwide to universities, film societies, commercial theaters, and various other educational venues. When Cinema 16 closed in 1963, much of its library was acquired by the Grove Press Film Division. Vogel’s subsequent activities included posts as the Director of the Lincoln Center Film Department and the New York Film Festival (which he also co-founded).
In 1973 Vogel joined the faculty of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, where he started a cinemathèque and taught film studies until 1991. In those years Vogel assembled a library of films which were used in his classes; 193 of these titles (primarily 16mm projection prints, most of them shorts, dating from 1905 to the 1980s) were donated to the Harvard Film Archive in 2005. Prints include several that were screened in a 1982 course called Manipulation and Ideology in Film, which manifested Vogel’s unique curatorial style: Peter Davis’ touchstone Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds (1974); Why Vietnam? (1965) and other propaganda produced by the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense; Roberto Rossellini’s The Miracle (1948), Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), and Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971). The library also includes many films first premiered at Cinema 16, as well as films Vogel writes about in his landmark book Film as a Subversive Art (1974). The Vogel collection ranges from pioneering avant-garde works to animation, documentary, educational and industrial shorts to American and European classics. The collection’s eccentric sampling of non-mainstream cinema is demonstrated by such holdings as Fishing in the Fjords (1938), Le Corbusier Designs for Harvard (1966), and Word is Out, Rob Epstein’s ground-breaking documentary portrait of twenty-six gay men and women living in America circa 1978.