A Funny Thing About Home Movies…

These days there are enthusiasts of actually watching them!

Particularly on Home Movie Day. Saturday 18 October 2014



Saturday 18 October 2014 is Home Movie Day. Events will take place in many cities in many countries around the world. Free for anyone to take part in, the events provide opportunities to see and share home movies with community audiences. Moving-image archivists and other enthusiasts organize the events, and provide information about how to care for home movies.

The Home Movie Day website provides many details, and there’s a secondary, international site, too.

While 18 October 2014 is the official Home Movie Day, local organizers choose dates that work in their location – this year, the first gatherings were in July, and many are scheduled beyond this weekend, right up to December 13.

The list of cities hosting events is long; details are on a locations page — make sure you wait for loading, and also look for dates from July through December.

If your town or regions doesn’t yet have a Home Movie Day event, now could be a good time to begin organizing one for next year. The Center for Home Movies tells you how on  its host a Home Movie Day event page.

Sites, and number of events: Argentina (1)  Austria (1)  Canada (11)  Czech Republic (1)  Finland (1)  France (1)  Germany (4)  Indonesia (1)  Japan (14)  Netherlands (1)  Poland (2)  United Kingdom (6)  Spain (4)  Switzerland (2)  Thailand (1)  Uruguay (1)  United States of America (31)

You may be forgiven if you’ve barely thought about your home movies since 1969. It was about then that, in the first flush of widespread handy-cam ownership from the mid-1960s on, the home movie seemed so fresh a contribution to family life.

That footage you have of grandma when she was younger than you are now, or of a pet dog whose backyard burial mound has become unlocatable, or of your house being built in your subdivision’s scrawny youth… All are probably in formats as mystifying as quantum mechanics and as intimidating: Hi-8, BetaSP, CED… Those glower from a shelf, languish in shoeboxes that molder in your attic, or lie like caved ancient scrolls in an impossibly primitive Macintosh.

If you’ve thought about these films at all, it has been to tell yourself for the umpteenth time that you really should have them digitized, or something. But what? How? The file formats drive you nuts – MPG, MOV, AVI, VOB, WTF.

home-movie-day-2014-jakarta-indonesieYou’ve even consulted a computer-savvy teen nephew, and sought to bribe assistance out of him with a tattoo-parlor gift voucher, but all you got was the standard yeah-so-what’s-the-problem huff.

And then someone mentioned that there’s this thing called Home Movie Day that’s put on in various countries and cities and you can take along your home movies and they’ll check them for playability, provide advice on how to care for them or repair them, and even play them to an audience for reasons you can’t at first comprehend.

Someone wants to see Uncle Delbert rendered lobster by sunburn? Nanna when she mislaid her dentures? The kids’ third-grade third-week-of-first-semester graduation singalong and bore-fest? The family’s first train trip, perhaps (if you had one of the early Super 8 cameras, or the like) without audio of the squabbles that were its highlight and ruination?

Well, yes: the archivists who put on Home Movie Day events around the world do care. Local archives, museums, and historical societies increasingly want to view and collect home movies that can supplement, complement, flesh out the records of the news-grabbing events and people of yore.

Other examples of what people at Home Movie Day events might very well want to see: Your footage of kids and dogs that used to alert your guests that they had urgent chores waiting at home. When it was made — whether at the dawn of mass amateur film making, or anytime since — can tell the revelations-hungry modern-day public much about you.

home-movie-day-2014-vienne-autriche-2-4584dAnd one way or another you’re more interesting than you might have feared — your footage reveals details of everyday and private life that become all the more informative as they become more and more remote as the technology-hastened world spins faster and wobblier.

In what has become a sort of Home Movie Day war cry, Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow once said: “As a child, I used to think home movies, compared to proper films, inept and boring. But I’ve been converted — many examples I’ve seen have been beautifully shot and historically invaluable.”

The motivation behind a home-movies revival movement that over the last decade and more is that seeing home movies can be anything from an opportunity for lofty consideration of social history to an innocently voyeuristic equivalent of sneaking a peek in a vague acquaintance’s medicine cabinet. Archivists are encouraging Home-movie owners owners of footage great and small to take care of it — haul that rickety projector out from an even more remote corner and get it working again, and make records of what you shot on it; or, better still, preserve it and make it fitted for everyday viewing by transferring it to more-recent platforms such as the digital.

The Center for Home Movies was set up by a group of film archivists in 2002, with a first installment of Home Movie Day on 16 August 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. Through its website, the Center, which is a nonprofit organization with offices in Baltimore, acts as a clearinghouse for anyone interested in holding or attending events.

chicago HMD 2014Moving-image archivists and preservationists, among them the organizers of Home Movie Day, emphasize 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, “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.”

What to expect, at these Home Movie Day events? Typically, archivists and projectionists spend the first couple of hours inspecting and projecting any celluloid home movies that walk in the door, and encourage owners to say a little about them. Then, archivists and projectionists screen some home movies from their organizations’ collections.

Events around the world are run in similar ways, but because the very nature of home movies is idiosyncratic, events also vary greatly from city to city.

So, for example, at this years’s Chicago event, staff of Chicago Film Archives and Northwest Chicago Film Society will present home movies that spotlight Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and local railroads and trains.

The Chicago organizers also plan to have an outstanding silent-film pianist, David Drazin, on hand to lend some pizzazz, should your home movies beckon it. He is, as Marilyn Ferdinand, Chicago author, film critic, and operator of ferdyonfilms.com puts it, “a consummate musician with a supernatural talent for film accompaniment.” In this clip, he plays “Rockin’ the Boat,” a tune he created through improvisation while accompanying Buster Keaton’s The Boat.

raleigh flyer copyIn Raleigh, North Carolina, the Film Studies Program at North Carolina State University, the State Archives of North Carolina, and A/V Geeks Transfer Services are holding an event. The State Archives is lending its auditorium to provide the home films of attending members of the public with the fanciest screening of their lives.

At Raleigh Home Movie Day, not only can participants spend the afternoon find out about and watch each other’s amateur films, they can also win prizes playing Home Movie Day bingo (your guess is as good as mine).

A/V Geeks Transfer Services will even copy some of your footage, for free. Devin Orgeron, the director of Film Studies at North Carolina State, says the Raleigh events keep growing, and turning up material more and more captivating. He says: “I tell my students this every year and I think they are starting to get it now: you can’t really call yourself a film nerd and miss this event.”

watermelon copyThat most brilliant of film nerds, John Waters, sings the praises of Home Movie Day, thus: “There’s no such thing as a bad home movie. These mini-underground opuses are revealing, scary, joyous, always flawed, filled with accidental art, and shout out from attics and closets all over the world to be seen again.”

To see just how much that is so, you can watch online Center for Home Movies the Home Grown Movies collections of material discovered at Home Movie Day screenings. The Center has a Vimeo Home Movie Day site as well as a Twitter Home Movie Day page.

pm w: footy copy

— Peter Monaghan (in his only home movie appearance)

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