Culling through a box in the attic, or a bin at the thrift store, you can find many mysterious things. But none, perhaps, as mysterious as the filmstrip. Old home movies of your own family can be riveting--strangely intimate and inexplicable as the scenes can be. But in an age of digital cameras and CD burners, who has time to find an old projector take a peek at what lurks on the 8 mm reels?
On Saturday, you can bring those old reels to the Rare Book Room in Duke University's Perkins Library and take advantage of an assortment of projectors, cleaning equipment and film experts who can help you figure out what you've got, and how to take care of it. This is the first annual Home Movie Day, and it's being organized by members of the Association of Moving Picture Archivists in various cities around the U.S. and Canada.
"A lot of people have film material in their homes, but they don't have a projector," explains organizer Karen Glynn. "Or they inherited it from an older relative and they don't even know what they have. They know they should hold on to it, but they've never seen it."
If you have 8, Super 8, 16 or 19.5 mm film, you can project it and watch it at the event. And just in case you're holding never-before-seen footage of your parents' honeymoon and don't feel keen on projecting it to the entire room, there will also be equipment on hand to let you watch it more discreetly.
Why does it matter whether a bunch of strangers' home movies turn to dust? Glynn says it goes beyond preserving personal histories. "Videotape and digital are wonderful in that they give access to the material." But old-fashioned reel-to-reel is still the longest-lasting format, she says. "Home-movie makers were also sometimes amateur filmmakers. Who knows what will come out? I'm hoping we'll find some historical material as well."
The extensive network of independent filmmakers the Triangle is full of appreciation for odd found footage. Jen Ashlock, who organizes the Flicker Film Festival in Chapel Hill, thinks it's a great idea. "Anyone who has made a home movie is a filmmaker," she says. "So it really breaks down the barrier between who is and who is not defined as a filmmaker." Home movies are her favorite. "It's the most basic film form and the most raw, emotionally and visually."
"People show home movies at Flicker pretty frequently," Ashlock says. "Home movies make great found footage. Now that we can transfer home movies to digital video and do editing on computers, it's opened up a new genre."
Home Movie Day will also include a screening of what is widely considered the first home movie, Feeding the Baby by the Lumiere brothers, shot in France in 1895. Organizers will also show films by H. Lee Waters, a documentary filmmaker from North Carolina who shot silent films during the Great Depression in 118 small towns throughout the Carolinas. While Waters' films aren't home movies, they do express the potential of amateur filmmakers' ability to capture life in their own communities.
Tom Whiteside, a co-organizer of the event and a scholar of Waters' work, will talk about defining home movies. "There are people who have lived their entire lives in North Carolina," he says. "But when you watch their home movies, they're of Hawaii and Japan, places they've traveled. I think home movies are more defined by where they're shown, by exhibition, than by subject matter."
Home Movie Day will take place Saturday, Aug. 16, 2-4 p.m. in the Rare Book Room at Duke University's Perkins Library. Free. 660-5968. www.homemovieday.com