A Home Movie Day Unlike the Others

Home Movie Day won’t be quite the same, this year.

But as sometimes happens, restrictions — in this case, imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic — will force changes that may turn out to be fruitful innovations.

Since its inception in 2003, Home Movie Day has seen film organizations around the world invite members of the public to bring along their home movies so that archivists can help the owners to take care of them.

Archivists screen the films on equipment that often is long out of general circulation. They assess the films for deterioration and other threats. And they show the owners how to care for their home movies, and talk to them about why that’s worth the effort.

They alert them, for example, that home movies in their original formats can, with proper care, last decades longer than digital or video copies. They also encourage members of their local communities to dig out their home movies to see whether they might be a lot more interesting than the owners remember them being. Or than grumbling family members who sat through long-ago screenings.

Home Movie Day events generally take place on or around the date of Home Movie Day, but can be held at any time of the year and still remain within the international HMD fold.

Some images from past Home Movie Days around the world

First and foremost, the events focus on the pleasures of sharing amateur films with others. But of course social events have been among victims of Covid-19, and as Home Movie Day approaches — it is set for Saturday, October 17 — officials at more and more hosting organizations, in cities around the world, are become resigned to the likely reality that in-person gatherings are not worth risking.

The Center for Home Movies is the event’s organizer, but in reality it’s the coordinator of independent Home Movie Day events around the world. They have responded to colleagues around the world by deciding that, with the pandemic raging and unlikely to abate anytime soon, most events this year will need to have a “virtual” formatting.

On or around Home Movie Day or at any other time during the coming months depending on their capabilities, archives, libraries, theaters, and other organisations around the world will host Home Movie Day 2020 Online events, with in-person gatherings restricted to the few if any remaining locales that are at low risk from Covid-19.

“While we are very disappointed that there won’t be the energy of knowing that there are live events going on in spaces around the world, we are excited about the possibilities that online programming will allow,” says Dwight Swanson, one of six members of the Board of Directors of the Center for Home Movies, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

And that, he says, will be in keeping with one lesson he and his colleagues learned from previous Home Movie Days: “We had been considering online programming for some time, and there have been a few experiments in recent years,” primarily because “the one part of Home Movie Day that was always disappointing was that because the events were so ephemeral and available only to in-person audiences, we were only able to read descriptions of most of the films shown, but not see them.”

That will change under pandemic conditions. “We’ll get an opportunity to watch films from around the world and compare and contrast how home movies look in other regions and on other continents,” he says.

“Also, archives and collectors that didn’t have the capabilities to bring out projectors and equipment and put on live events will now be able to post digital files to spotlight their collections.”

In that way, local events can be held at any time, and can be shared with a global audience. Swanson and his colleagues are embracing the motto “Every Day is Home Movie Day” and foresee a raft of creative responses to the circumstances of the pandemic.

Those are already emerging, Swanson says. The Center for Home Movies has received many ideas from around world on how best to run Home Movie Day events, now. Among plans are pre-recorded video programs of films from archives’ and organisations’ collections or submitted by members of the public, along with prerecorded live chats, commentaries, introductions, and question-and-answer sessions, delivered by curators or filmmakers’ families and posted online.

The pandemic may produce a rich crop of privately held home movies because so many people are being forced to stay at home, allowing owners of home movies to rediscover home-movie troves hidden away in closets and attics.

“We are happy to hear that there will be an educational focus, as well,” Swanson says. For example, some organizations plan to present instructional videos on home movie preservation.

An Italian project, Re-Framing Home Movies, hopes to shoot video about how collections are inventoried, to demonstrate that activity to the public. The Center for Home Movies, itself, is working on Zoom discussions with other groups about home movie history and curatorial practices.

To facilitate local and global sharing, the Center is creating an online portal to advertize and provide links to live and pre-recorded home-movie programs around the world. Portal users will be able to connect to the sites of Home Movie Day hosts and watch their programs, live or later. (The Center will hold Zoom sessions for organizers on Tuesday 18 August and Friday 21 August to share ideas and approaches.)

The event this year will have the theme “New Ways of Connecting.” Organizers in various cities around the world will come up with programs that work for them, and then be able to provide them for viewing and other forms of participation, as they wish. Archivists associated with the Center for Home Movies will provide technical advice.

From 22 venues in 2003, Home Movie Day has come to take place in more than 20 countries at more than 70 locations. This year’s participants are formulating plans, and a few already have a bead on how they’ll cope with the new circumstances. Skip Elsheimer, like Dwight Swanson a veteran of organizing many Home Movie Days, has already hosted two events this year, one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the other in Durham, North Carolina. Durham will again be the site of a September online event he is putting together through the City of Raleigh Museum and AV Geeks, his acclaimed archive of more than 27,000 16mm educational and industrial films.

Elsheimer says: “I’ll be taking in films and video from the public for two to three weeks prior to the event. My assistant and I will digitize the home movies – up to 10 minutes – and then we will curate a two to three hour Home Movie Day event on a Saturday afternoon, viewable on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch. We will invite folks who submitted home movies to comment on the films they brought. We’ll try to include as much of a Home Movie Day experience as possible.

“We are hoping that this will bring out more people as it gives folks a wider timeframe to submit home movies. Also, people from around the globe could potentially tune in and watch.”

— Peter Monaghan

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