Home Movie Day

Saturday, October 16, 2010, is this year’s “Home Movie Day,” an annual celebration of amateur films and filmmaking. It takes place at local venues, worldwide, to encourage owners of home movies to share their footage with family members, friends, and neighbors. Events at the many local sites include instruction on how to care for home movies.

Most Home Movie Day events are free and open to the public, and offer expert evaluation of films brought in by participants, as well as an opportunity to show films in an open screening. Locations of events are listed on the organizers’ website.

A Home Movie Special Project

The Center for Home Movies (USA) and the Archivio Nazionale del Film di Famiglia (Italy) announced on March 8, 2010, that they are beginning a research and preservation collaboration to document the Italian-American experience through home movies. Organizers are searching for home movies and amateur films of Italian-American immigrant life, ethnic communities and organizations, and connections between the two countries.

Dwight Swanson, Center for Home Movies, dwswan@gmail.com, asks anyone with information about relevant films in archival or personal collections to get in touch with him.

A group of film archivists started Home Movie Day in 2002, with a first installment of the celebration on August 16, 2003. The founders were intent on raising the profile of home movies as a scattered repository of images of 20th-century life. Among signs of a growing interest in such footage, many local archives, museums, and historical societies are collecting the films as a way to preserve windows onto private and public life.

Of course, they and donors of material are finding footage in the most haphazard of archives – in boxes in basements and attics, gathering dust and rarely viewed. But the pitch of the organizers of Home Movie Day has been, all along, that owners of such film need not be nearly as fearful as they are of showing the material in its original format; nor, they have argued, should owners be so hasty to transfer the film into digital forms, and then ditch the original stock.

As noted on the event’s website http://www.homemovieday.com, “many people were having their amateur films transferred to videotape or DVD, with the mistaken idea that their new digital copies would last forever and the ‘obsolete’ films could be discarded. Original films (and the equipment required to view them) can long outlast any version on VHS tape, DVDs, or other digital media. Not only that, but contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie image, the original films are often carefully shot in beautiful, vibrant color—which may not be captured in a lower-resolution video transfer.”

The appeal of home movies surprises many viewers; certainly, he did not expect to become so firm an addict of them, says Dwight Swanson, a stalwart of home-movie preservation who is a member of the board of the Center for Home Movies, in Baltimore, and maintains the center’s offices there. (The center is a nonprofit organization that oversees the activities of Home Movie Day and other projects relating to amateur film preservation.) He says that as soon as he became exposed to home movies, while working in regional film archives, he found that “they’re very addictive and intriguing once you get the opportunity to sit down and watch a lot of them. For so long they’ve been misunderstood as being very limited. But when you come up against the reality of what home movies are like, there is so much range and diversity in them. They’re really wonderful and fascinating to watch when sit down and confront them as real films and objects. That sucks a lot of people in.”

Proof of that claim is that Home Movie Day has become a worldwide celebration of amateur films. “I’ve seen so much growth in this area, especially now with many students coming out of new archival-training programs,” Swanson says.

The films appeal not just to the curiosity of casual viewers, but also to film archivists, he adds: “When you’re looking for documentation of your city, state, area, always is some commercial production, but so much of local history is captured in home movies.”

On Home Movie Day, local film archivists host events in many cities and towns, and let film owners know about those facts, and about how to properly care for and store their films. They also provide participants with the means to watch and show their films, as families now rarely possess projectors for that purpose.

Each year, Home Movie Day invites volunteers and local hosts to run events in their communities. For more information on how you can take part, see the group’s Get involved with HMD page.

Sponsors of Home Movie Day and its local events can lend their support at the sponsors page.

– Peter Monaghan

Categories: Features

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