On Saturday, October 18 the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research helped organize Home Movie Day Madison at the Pinney Library. We had great assistance from our partners at the Pinney Library and Holder Printworks, as well as our volunteer crew from the UW-Madison SLIS Archives program!
We had an intimate but lively event after a few year’s absence of Home Movie Day in Madison, with a total audience of 21 including 9 people who brought films & videos to view. Our chosen venue, Pinney Library, was easily accessible and we hoped to attract a different crowd than might come out to the big downtown library (also, much easier to park at Pinney!) The library graciously provided snacks and an awesome little theater space, and many of the volunteers stopped at the feline-themed cafe next door during setup for their caffeine fix. (viva Java Cat Coffee!) Two folks dropped off films in advance so we had plenty of inspections to do from 11-1pm.
We started screening just after 1pm, with Ben serving as our emcee, Carolina on music, and Amy on projectors. Our first films came from Jane, who drove up all the way from Chicago to share films she saved after a neighbor of hers passed away. The owner of the films had no family and all of her belongings were put into the dumpsters, and we all applauded Jane for saving a bit of local film history! We ended up showing three 8mm films from this collection: one of the Vanderbilt Estate in the Smoky Mountains from 1957; one of bull fighting in Mexico from 1957, and one shot in Wrigley Field during a baseball game sometime in the 1950s. All films were Kodachrome and had excellent color.
Our other set of early drop off films was from a local woman named Cindy Miller. She was unable to attend the event, but we screened two of her three super8 films from the 1980s which both got a lot of laughs. Both were family films, the first documenting a family vacation, complete with a dancing grandma and kids singing and jumping on a bed (a real crowd pleaser, especially with Talking Heads as the soundtrack!), and the second a film shot on the first day of school with all the kids lined up on the sidewalk with their backpacks on. The second film had some curl and we had some trouble keeping the framing right, so we decided not to screen the third film since it had the same condition issues.
Andrew Baraniak from the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum brought in another great collection: a thumb drive containing files of some recently digitized films from the museum’s collections. The films had been shot by Frank Murphy, a Colonel of the 3rd Infantry, during World War II. The first digitzed film we saw had been shot in New Guinea in 1945 and contained day-to-day life footage, with shots of the beach and many images of locals. A second film, from January 1945, was shot in the Philippines and showed a downed Japanese plane and local rice production. Both of these films inspired a lot of conversation among the audience members, and we took a short break to ask questions about the films. It was nice to have Andrew there to tell us more about how the films ended up at the Museum, and how common it was for soldiers to have cameras during wartime. Based on the success of this, I will make it a part of all Home Movie Day events here in the future to include a very small amount of “curated content” like this, but have the presenter participate just like any other member of the audience bringing films.
In addition to the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum’s additions, Mary Huelsbeck from the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research brought in a DVD with digitized copies of home movies from filmmaker Shirley Clarke’s collection. These took place in the 1920s, in New York City and in the Hamptons, and Mary was able to answer many questions about Clarke and the rest of her collection at the WCFTR. Additionally, Mary showcased a DVD copy of home movies from her family documenting a wedding in Wisconsin during the 1960s.
One of our volunteers from the Pinney Library shared with us a miniDV tape that he shot in 2011 during the downtown Madison St. Patrick’s Day parade. Nice footage of his daughters running for candy that the audience enjoyed. A few people commented how different it was to view footage that included a soundtrack, so it was nice to have some more modern footage to contrast with the small gauge film.
A latecomer in the day, Rick Bernstein, brought in three reels of super8 footage all documenting he and his brother’s time at a summer camp in Maine in the 1960s. He didn’t remember the films being shot, but found them in his mother’s house. Lots of swimming footage, which made us all long for the warm days of summer!
Amy Sloper brought in two items for viewing, one an 8mm reel a friend of hers picked up at an antique shop in Mumbai. This one documented an Indian fashion show, with beautiful gowns captured on Kodachrome. The second was a DVD copy of a VHS home movie called Sloper Family Reunion, 1981. This footage was quite boring, and the highlight was a dog hiding from the rain under an ugly 1970s-era car.
Finally, one of the highlights of the afternoon was brought in by another one of our organizers, Joyal Holder. He framed the footage as a surprise, and as soon as he popped in the DVD we were in for a treat. On a reel of 8mm film he had transferred for a local family was footage of Elvis Presley during his time in the military – he could be seen playing football, posing for photographs and signing his autograph for other military members and their families. The family of the man who shot the footage never wanted to monetize it and were happy to allow Joyal to share it with us on Home Movie Day, and it really was a treat!
All in all a very successful afternoon. The major takeaway for next year is to probably host the event on a different day – this year we were competing with both the Madison Book Festival and the Madison Science Festival, which affected our turnout and also our ability to get promotion. We might try for another event in a different type of venue in the winter.