Home Movie Day celebrates film of years past

Film enthusiasts strive to preserve cinema history

August 13, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

Your old man could never hold the cine camera still, so it always looked as if family birthdays and holidays were spent near the San Andreas Fault. Too often there were shots of you squinting in sunlight. Zoom lenses confirmed that your thighs were too big. And your poignant quips were usually drowned out by the clicking sound of the film threading through the projector.

What would any home be without home movies, the original reality shows?

Haven't seen those celluloid memories for a while? Perhaps you should find them, gather them up and take them to Creative Alliance at the Patterson, where you can watch them on the big screen at Baltimore's version of the third-annual International Home Movie Day, today from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Annually held the second week in August, the event is organized by amateur film lovers worldwide to celebrate celluloid movies.

In addition, introduction on film handling and care will be provided by co-presenter Colorlab, a Rockville-based company that specializes in film preservation.

Home Movie Day has spawned a community of amateur film enthusiasts dedicated to preserving 20th-century history. Much of their efforts are grass roots, their correspondence online, but their images reflect similar life experiences, from birthday parties to babies, to vacations to grandparent visits.

"One of the interesting things is to see how common everybody's life is," said Julia Nicoll, film preservation specialist at Colorlab and co-organizer of Baltimore's Home Movie Day.

And though you may not find footage here as historic as the infamous Abraham Zapruder 8 mm film that recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, much of it is of high quality.

Among films to be shown today include film from late medical photographer Rudolf A. Torovsky Jr. of Washington, who filmed Spiro Agnew's inauguration as Maryland's governor, and footage by late Baltimore sheet metal worker Maurice Leeson Walsh, who filmed various Civil War battlefields.

"You find that there are a lot of really wonderful amateur film people who really know what they're doing," said Nicoll. "And then you find endless shots of nothing, like a shot of a car window while people are on vacation, and all you see is trees passing by. There are people opening Christmas gifts, lots of swimming and funny hair.

"Home Movie Day offers moments when you're just waiting for it to be over and then moments where there is so much interaction between the person who has the camera and the subject, real engagement that's very special."

Among the sites that celebrate Home Movie Day are San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Brazil's Sao Paolo. In addition to screening, they discuss long-term benefits of film versus video and digital media.

"It seems that most films, if they're well taken care of, will last about 100 years," said Kristen Anchor, director of Creative Alliance MovieMakers and co-organizer of the event.

"It looks as if VHS tapes break down and lose their memory after about 20 years," she added. "We don't know about DVD because it's so new."

Last year, there were 40 films shown at the Baltimore event, often as many as five at a time, and all in the Creative Alliance theater room.

All movies are screened by Colorlab before their public showing. "No porn or nothing racy is allowed. This is a family event," said Anchor, "and we won't take a film that is in a condition so delicate that placing it in the projector might ruin the film."

This year, the sites will offer a new twist to the event: Home Movie Day Bingo. Cards will be distributed with images seen in the films and those who have the most images marked off will win prizes that include passes to Creative Alliance movies.

Admission is free, and home movie enthusiasts are encouraged to attend even if they don't have a film to contribute. Yet camcorders and digital film recorders are not encouraged: The event is not only about watching celluloid films but celebrating their place in movie history.

"We want to encourage people to save their 8 mm and 16 mm film," said Nicoll, who added that amateur filmmaking dates back to the 1920s. "There used to be a time when you could go into Sears and buy a film projector."

Nicoll said the key to preserving home movies is storage. They're not to be shelved in basements, attics or any other room that gets too hot, too humid. That, she said, will prevent mold or shrinkage.

"Put them," she said, "in an area where you live."

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