This is the first time the four Olmec Productions films will be shown together in the United States. All films are free of charge except for donations as honoraria to panelists.
All screenings occur at 7pm in the Osher Lecture Hall, 800 Chestnut Street Campus, San Francisco.
Preceding The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, don’t miss this re-enactment of Hollywood Ten Albert Maltz’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) performed by his grand-daughter, Mira Larkin and great grand-son, Adán Jose Faudoa.
Q&A will follow each screening and there will be a panel discussion after the finale screening on April 2 moderated by Margot Pepper, and including panelists: Diana Zykofsky Anhalt, Tony Kahn, Dr. James Kahn, Lynne Odenheim Kalmar
In 1947, during the domestic cold war, Hollywood artists were blacklisted and even jailed by those who feared the power of their art. After the first “Hollywood Ten” were imprisoned for refusing to answer questions about their political associations—what they believed to be a violation of their constitutional rights—a number of subsequently subpoenaed artists fled to Europe, Canada and Mexico to avoid testifying against colleagues, jail time or the demise of their careers. These internationalist exiles formed communities of resistance that supported the global movement for human rights.
Mexico City and its environs attracted dozens of exiles including Charles White, John Wilson, Elizabeth Catlett; Cleo and Dalton Trumbo; Frances Chaney and Ring Lardner Jr; Margaret Larkin and Albert Maltz; Berthe and Charles Small; Gordon Kahn; Ian Hunter; Jeanette and George Pepper; Jean Rouverol and Hugo Butler; Belle and Meyer Zykofsky; Kurt and Celia Odenheim; Fred Vanderbilt Field; even Marilyn Monroe for various periods of time. These dynamic writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, labor activists, economists and educators joined the native political talent cauldron that included Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and his model, Nieves Orozco; David Alfaro Siqueiro; Miguel Covarrubias and members of the radical Taller de la Gráfica Popular’s Leopoldo Méndez, Raúl Anguiano, Alfredo Zalce and José Chávez Morado. What ensued was a radical “transnational” synthesis of politics, art, literature and film writes University of New Mexico Professor Rebecca M. Schreiber in Cold War Exiles in Mexico.
Three members of this community—US exiles George Pepper and Hugo Butler, and Spanish exile and director Luis Buñuel—remained in Mexico to forge new filmmaking careers there. This SFAI festival focuses on four ensuing memorable Olmec Productions films produced by George Pepper and written by Hugo Butler. The pair teamed with Spanish exile and director, Luis Buñuel on two of these films: The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and The Young One.
In February of 1950, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a merciless anti-communist campaign, later known as McCarthyism. In 1951, Pepper fled to Mexico City with his wife, Jeanette, to dodge subpoenas. Pepper introduced screenwriter Hugo Butler to Buñuel and the three began making films. It was Buñuel “who introduced Butler to alternative modes of filmmaking intended to disrupt conventional realist aspects of Hollywood film production,” notes Schreiber.
According to Schreiber US “Filmmakers who directed their work toward Mexican audiences, especially screenwriter and director Hugo Butler and producer George Pepper, played a seminal role in Mexican independent film production.” Schreiber notes that two of the Pepper-Butler films, ¡Torero! (1956) and Los pequeños gigantes or Little Giants (1958) “were influential in the emergence of Nuevo Cine (New Cinema) in the late 1950s, a movement of independent filmmakers in Mexico against the aesthetic and ideological conventions of both classical Hollywood and Mexican narrative cinema.”
Back in the US, the domestic cold war blacklist supposedly began to disintegrate on January 20, 1960, with Director Otto Preminger’s announcement that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo would receive full credit for the script of his film, Exodus. In 1997 the Writers Guild of America and three other talent guilds publicly apologized for their role in the blacklist and Butler, along with other blacklisted screenwriters and directors, had their credits restored. Pepper produced four movies during his exile in Mexico in the 1950s. Two were directed by Spanish film icon Luis Buñuel. But in the US Pepper’s name does not appear on a single film.
Before she died, Hugo Butler’s widow, actress and author Jean Rouverol, donated her copy of The Little Giants to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In November of 2017, as part of their retrospective on Latino film culture in Los Angeles, the Academy restored The Little Giants and was the first to break the blacklisting of George Pepper by acknowledging his real name in a slide show tribute and panel. To date, attempts to restore George Pepper’s name have been ignored by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Producers Guild. Only recently in 2018, after much protest, did Wikipedia and the IMDb finally grant Pepper his own page.
San Francisco Art Institute will be the first to host a festival of all Pepper’s censored films with overdue credit. This is the first time the four Olmec Productions films will be shown together in the United States, even though the writer and producer were US citizens.
There can be no more fitting venue for the Buñuel-Butler-Pepper film festival than SFAI, the venue where, in 1931, internationalist Diego Rivera (film-maker Hugo Butler’s next-door neighbor!) painted a tremendous, trompe l’oeil fresco of himself painting a fresco mural of industrialization. The Diego Rivera Gallery, home to SFAI’s historic Diego Rivera Mural, is a student-directed exhibition space for work by SFAI students. Spanning an entire wall, Rivera’s “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City” is a porthole into another era—the one later captured by Tim Robbins in the film Cradle Will Rock, a time that would later include the Butler-Pepper-Buñuel trio.
Make sure you leave yourself at least 15 minutes to take it all in, just steps away from Osher Lecture Hall. To fully enter into the Butler-Pepper-Buñuel porthole perspective, read about the mural before you see it at Mark Vallen’s site: art-for-a-change.com/blog/2011/12/diego-rivera-the-making-of-a-fresco.html.
LUIS BUÑUEL (1900-1983). Often banned in more than one country, the iconoclast Spanish film-maker has made canonic films for audiences in Spain, the United States, Mexico and France. He is best known for his early surrealist works Un chien andalou (An Andalusion Dog, 1929) in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, L’Age D’or (The Golden Age, 1930) and later, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1972.) He viewed surrealism as “the complete rejection of all existing values,” as well as a reaction to what he called Hollywood’s “conventional capitalist cinema,” according to University of New Mexico professor and author Rebecca M. Schreiber. Buñuel used surrealism as a political statement against the social repression characterized by the materialistic and conservative values of the bourgeoisie. After being banned in Franco’s Spain, Buñuel worked in the United States, including for the New York MoMA until his career and reputation was damaged by fascist-leaning Dalí. Dalí named Buñuel as a communist in his autobiography at a time when communists were being blacklisted in the US domestic cold war. (Prior to that, upon being asked by the MoMA if he was a Communist, Buñuel had replied: “I am a Republican,” and, apparently, the interviewer did not realize that Buñuel was referring to the Spanish socialist coalition government, not the American political party.) After the US denied Buñuel’s application for citizenship, he was invited to Mexico by Russian exile producer Oscar Dancigers. Buñuel unexpectedly remained in Mexico, directing over twenty films between the mid 1940s and mid-1960s. These included Los Olvidados (1950) and Exterminating Angel (1962). In 1949, Buñuel renounced his Spanish citizenship to become a naturalized Mexican. His favorite producer in Mexico was George Pepper, alias (George P. Werker.)
HUGO BUTLER aka Philip Ansel Roll, Hugo Mozo, and H.B. Addis (1914-1968) was born in Canada, the son of actor and screenwriter Frank Butler (Academy Award winner for Going My Way). Hugo worked as a journalist and playwright before moving to Hollywood in 1937 where he wrote the first of thirty-four screenplays. His work on Edison the Man led to his nomination (with Dore Schary) for the Best Writing, Original Story Academy Award. In 1940 he married Jean Rouverol, actress, writer and screenwriter. Shortly thereafter his career was temporarily interrupted by military service in WWII, then permanently disrupted when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. After being blacklisted, he wrote under various pseudonyms as well as using a fellow screenwriter as a front to submit screenplays to studios on his behalf. He and his family moved to Mexico in 1951 and did not return to the United States on a permanent basis for thirteen years. Hugo died of a heart attack in 1968 in Hollywood, California at age 53. In 1997, the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America voted to posthumously give him official credit for scripts he had written. In addition to collaborations with Buñuel and Pepper—The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954), ¡Torero! (1956), The Little Giants (1958), and The Young One (La joven, 1960)—other credits include: A Christmas Carol (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Lassie Come Home (1943), The Southerner (1945) and The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968).
GEORGE PEPPER aka George P. Werker (1913-1969) was a violin child prodigy making headlines beginning at age four. When a repetitive stress injury cut his playing career short, he went on to become executive secretary of the Hollywood Democratic Committee and the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP). Under his term, HICCASP became the largest radical force in the West. Hollywood intellectuals and stars including Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Dalton Trumbo, and Orson Welles worked with the organization to improve the rights, conditions, and pay of industry workers across the country. HICCASP was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during McCarthyism. Thousands of radical and progressive workers, including Pepper and his wife Jeanette, were blacklisted as “potential communists,” which meant their termination from their profession. Edward Dmytryk named Pepper as a communist, April of 1951. In the Spring of that year, George and Jeanette Pepper fled to Mexico to dodge a subpoena from the Tenney Committee, California's subcommittee of HUAC. Once in Mexico, Pepper created Olmec Productions and met Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel. He introduced Buñuel to blacklisted screenwriter Hugo Butler. Then, working under the alias George P. Werker, Pepper produced Butler's scripts for The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954), ¡Torero! (1956), The Little Giants (1958), and The Young One (La joven, 1960.) Pepper was Buñuel’s favorite producer and close friend. Buñuel writes about Pepper in his memoir, My Last Sigh. Pepper also became one of the foremost authorities and collectors of Pre-Columbian artifacts with his name displayed as donor of many important works in the National Museum of anthropology in Mexico City.
Image Credit: George Pepper. Courtesy of Margot Pepper.