UW News

August 6, 2009

Why paint fish green? Help the library identify this week’s Lost and Found Film

Editor’s Note: The UW Audio Visual Services Materials Library has more than 1,200 reels of film from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, documenting life at the University through telecourses, commercial films and original productions. Some of the short films are easily identifiable, but many more remain mysteries. Who shot these films and why? Can you help answer those questions? Faculty and staff can use the comments field at the end of the story to send ideas. Those outside the University can e-mail filmarc@u.washington.edu.

This week’s film is called Big Beef Creek, but what’s most memorable about it involves fish in a net and fluorescent green paint. As our two-minute clip opens, a man walks out of a building identified as the University of Washington Fish Research Station. We see fish transferred from a net into a bucket of water. A short time later there are two men working near a creek. One sits with a net and the other puts something in a water bucket. Then we see small live fish poured from a bucket into a net, sprayed with fluorescent green paint, and put back into the water.

Okay, so what was that all about? There’s more intriguing action in the film, which is silent and was shot in about 1966. In one scene, for example, fish are taken out of a bucket and placed in a drawer in a wooden cabinet. A man opens the lid of the cabinet and places his head and arms in holes specially provided for that purpose. Is he taking a picture, looking through night vision goggles, or what?

Film Archives Specialist Hannah Palin would like information about the Fish Research Station — its history and personnel. Also, what experiment (or experiments) is being conducted in the film? Why are the fish being spray painted green? How was this film used and why was it taken? See if you can help.

Palin got only a few clues to last week’s film, House My People, but at least two of them seem to have borne fruit. One led her to Calvin Watness, who in 1970 helped develop the self-help housing program House My People, which built hundreds of homes and became the Northwest Housing Program. Palin learned that Watness has died, but she talked to his widow, who said that Watness “was very involved, served as president of the group and thoroughly enjoyed working with the program.” Mrs. Watness said she had some material on the program that she would try to locate. 

The second clue led her to Barry Brodniak, the executive director of the Northwest Housing Development. Brodniak said, “I am aware of the U of W’s involvement with the initial creation of our organization back in the late ’60’s. One of the original organizers of our organization by the name of Paul Hackett talked to me about this some years ago. There were a couple of people (I may have names in some old files we have kept) that worked for the University who were instrumental in helping our organiztion incorporate and apply for a ‘new’ program from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. A mutual self-help housing technical assistance grant. Which is essentially the same program we have operated continually since that initial funding in 1970. I’m not sure if Paul is still living. He retired 10 to 15 years ago and I haven’t heard from him in a long time. In a way the University is still involved with our program as I am a 1976 graduate.”

To see House My People, click here.