Founded in 2002, Home Movie Day is an annual celebration of amateur films and filmmaking held on an international scale. The event provides an opportunity for people in the community to screen their home movies, which might otherwise not be possible to view. While providing this assistance, Home Movie Day (HMD) volunteers strive to offer guidance on how to properly care for these materials (i.e. keep them cool and dry, label them clearly and make high-quality access copies), as well as their safe keeping.
Initially HMD was held on 8/16, playfully referencing how home movies were first shot on 8mm, Super 8mm or 16mm film. The date later shifted to the third Saturday in October to accommodate venues in various cities and coincide with National Archives Month. It should be noted that HMD in its current form, is not film specific. VHS and Hi8 are two perfect examples of household favorites that were user friendly and affordable for the average consumer in the 1970s and early 1980s. As James Parrish, the host of the Richmond HMD put it, “We’re not anti-video; we’re pro-preservation.”
“When Home Movie Day started, the need was most urgent for film formats – we knew people were throwing out their original films, either because they’d had video copies made and didn’t think they needed the originals anymore, or because they couldn’t watch the films and assumed there was nothing of interest or value on them. Now we know the films people have are often in great shape and that film as a medium is really stable. Tape media is honestly the format that’s most at risk and in need of focused attention if it’s going to survive as a record for the future.”
These now rarified tape formats also have to contend with the forced obsolescence of the playback equipment required to view them, in addition to their fragility. For this reason, HMD has expanded the formats that community members can bring for assistance to screen. It is this approach of access-in-order-to-preserve that HMD presents as a potential solution for the preservation and stewardship of amateur footage.
HMD’s concerted effort to educate their audience and community members is also motivated by the understanding that these movies are part of larger cultural record, which can have regional or historical significance. Footage of seemingly mundane imagery can often be understood much differently through retrospect or when seen by someone else in the audience. An example of this would be the 2006 HMD discovery THINK OF ME FIRST AS A PERSON, which Becker contextualized for me:
“It was compiled from family footage shot over a period of several years by a man named Dwight Core, Sr. His fourth child and only son, Dwight, Jr, was born with Down Syndrome in the 1960s, and the film tells a really moving story of what his son is like, and of their family’s experience. It’s only recently that people with Down Syndrome and other developmental differences have become more visible in popular media, so to see historical footage of a child with Down Syndrome doing very ordinary childhood things like opening presents on Christmas morning or dancing with his friends at a party is quite a powerful experience – whether or not you’re a member of the disabled community. The same goes for nearly every group that’s been left out of movies and television, or couldn’t be more visible in public life of their time – people of color, the LGBT community, and so on. Footage these folks shot of themselves and those closest to them leading normal, private lives decades ago is deeply meaningful now.”
Home movies are an important part of our cultural record, which HMD provides awareness for as well as a platform. Although the formats, as well as the reception, of home movies has changed over the years, the way HMD is run has remained fairly consistent. Community members and those bringing material are greeted at a check-in station. Films are bagged, numbered, and labeled with additional information from the owner to ensure the return of their movies at the end of the day. These materials are then passed onto a film inspection station, where archivist volunteers wind through each reel and prep it for projection. Repairs are made and if there are severe issues (shrinkage, warping, vinegar syndrome, water damage, etc.) the owner is consulted and options are discussed for the safe viewing of their movie. Once the movies are prepped, they are taken out to the screening area where a volunteer improvises commentary to what is projected. This volunteer emcee is also responsible for answering spontaneous questions from the audience, as well as providing insight to the nuances of what is being seen and why (i.e. 8mm didn’t have a soundtrack so it’s silent, color retention is often related to film stock or storage conditions, tricks to identify when the footage was shot by what people are doing or wearing, etc.). After the movies are projected, they are taken back to the check-in table to be picked up by their owners. This format is built intentionally for it to be interactive and help demystify the medium for the audience.
This year over 20 countries hosted their own HMD events, in addition to over 40 venues just in the US alone – three of which were in Los Angeles! At just one of these events, we screened an assortment of small gauge films whose content included intimate family moments, a baseball game, travelogues, numerous cats, the amateur art films of an audience member’s brother, and even some 9.5mm! All this being said, the beauty of HMD is the flexibility of its rudimentary framework, which can be adopted and actualized by anyone with enough manpower and determination.
If you are interested hosting your own HMD it’s absolutely within the realm of possibility! A lot of what you need to know is available from the Center for Home Movies. You can also find a HMD near you here. Or if any of you Angelenos out there would like to volunteer, or bring your own home movies to an event, send us an email and we’ll put you in touch with whoever is in charge that year! You can also keep up with events like these on the AMIA Student Chapter Facebook page or follow the HMD Facebook page.
See you next year!
– Brianna Toth
UCLA MLIS MAS ‘19
AMIA Student Chapter Web/Social Media/Outreach Coordinator
Read more about Snowden Becker’s experience of cofounding Home Movie Day and the Center for Home Movies here.