Anyone who's found old home-movie reels in a drawer or closet - and figured out how to project them - can attest to their fascination. Once records of private life, now these pre-You Tube, even pre-VHS artifacts appeal to us as pieces of our collective history. This Saturday at Burlington College, community members will get a chance to show these treasures to the public - as well as advice on how to keep them from deteriorating.
This is the third year the college has hosted Home Movie Day, an event that began in 2003 and spread from major cities to venues all over the world. Touted by filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and John Waters, it has a simple aim: to give "people who have 8mm, Super 8mm, or 16mm films the opportunity to receive free on-site inspection of the films and information on how best to preserve them," according to a press release. After a preservation clinic from 9 a.m. to noon, possessors of old reels will get a chance to show them from 1 to 4 p.m.
Gemma Perretta, a film conservator and adjunct prof at Burlington College, is leading the workshop for the first time this year. She says its focus is on "getting the film out of the closet." Because Vermont has no historical archive devoted to film - yet - Perretta recommends people send their reels to the Northeast Historical Film Archive in Maine, or to New York for a transfer to video. What she doesn't suggest is a trip to the convenience store for that purpose, "although the local photo store can often offer archival-quality transfers." At the very least, old film stock belongs in "acid-free boxes in a cool, dry place."
Over the past few decades, prominent filmmakers have called for the preservation and restoration of classic films, whose master prints quickly decay when stored carelessly. Why take the same care with amateur creations? Perretta says home movies represent the history of a community: "We now have the capability in the 21st century of looking back. We have these images from our culture, and that's really exciting."
Barry Snyder, chair of the Department of Cinema Studies and Film Production at Burlington College, says the screenings at past Home Movie Days were "full of surprises. We have seen remarkable things, from sorority life at the University of Vermont in the '40s to Bob Hope entertaining the troops in Guam after the war." This year, Perretta says, the program already includes "films from the Lake Placid area" - contributed by Lake Placid Film Forum director Kathleen Carroll - "a 25th anniversary from 1957, a bar mitzvah from 1958, [and] a wonderful amateur film made by a father for his son from 1954." The public is welcome at the afternoon screening - and yes, there will be popcorn.