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Film Love curator Andy Ditzler screens black history at 24 frames per second

Film Love curator Andy Ditzler treats old short films, and even film projectors, with the care and attention most people reserve for their children.

Before screening "Movies of Local People: Kannapolis" in the basement studio of his Grant Park home, he uses a cotton swab to clean his 16-mm projector. "You should always do this. There's a lot of motion of the film inside the gate, where the buildup of emulsion takes place. That's how film starts to get scratches. I love film, but it's stressful to work with it."

After threading the film onto the reels, Ditzler dims the lights, switches on the projector and soaks up "Kannapolis'" vision of a segregated North Carolina town in 1941. Throughout the Great Depression, photographer H. Lee Waters traveled the South, filming people on the streets and then showing the images at the towns' movie theaters so they could see themselves on the big screen. (It's a far cry from the online exhibition of snapshots on, say, today's Flickr photo sites.) Selected for the prestigious National Film Registry, "Kannapolis" first shows the blue-collar white neighborhoods, then the more impoverished African-American ones. The film serves as a kind of silent slide show of faces, the vivacious and the dignified, the camera-shy and the camera-hogs, and how one community lived in the Jim Crow South.

"What a beautiful print!" Ditzler says when he first sees the crisp, sepia hues of "Kannapolis." In part he's relieved because he programmed the film, sight unseen, as one of the introductory subjects of this month's installment of his 6-year-old film series, Film Love. For February, Ditzler curates four evenings of Civil Rights on Film: Rare Films on African-American Life, 1941-1967, which offer richer and more complex glimpses of the civil rights era than we get from history books.