Before the advent of consumer friendly digital formats, thousands of film reels of amateur footage shot around the world, amounted to one of the largest and most significant bodies of moving-image work produced in the 20th Century. Sadly, these films that captured important private moments, and that serve as historical and cultural documents as well, were rarely preserved and often discarded. Now the film archivists at MoMA want to raise awareness of this neglected body of work and change perceptions of home movie culture.
The organization has premiered a short film that celebrates home movies. Featuring film archivists and curators Ron Magliozzi, Brittany Shaw, Ashley Swinnerton, and Katie Trainor, the video honors the collection and preservation of amateur film and video records, providing public access to the history and culture embodied in them. The underlying message: preserving cinema culture should not be restricted only to commercially produced films.
A prime example is the Zapruder film of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, inadvertently captured with an 8mm home movie camera. It became critical evidence in the investigation of the assassination. Or Nickolas Muray’s famously vibrant color footage of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera shot with his 16mm camera. Or footage of the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940. Our view of history would be radically different without treasured works like these that are revealing, joyous, flawed, and sometimes accidental art, unearthed from basements and closets all over the world.
They enable those who weren’t around at the time each of these moments unfolded to experience them. Meanwhile, documentary filmmakers build entire features with this amateur footage, which historians will continue to rely on to tell them what life was like in 20th Century America.
The technology has evolved, from film stock to, most recently, smartphones with superior video recording capability, making the creation of home movies easier and much more affordable to the average consumer. But a conscious effort still has to be made in order to preserve the footage, so that a century from now, it can all be readily accessed.
Titled “How to See Home Movies,” the MoMA short film shines a light on seldom-recognized homemade works, exploring the connections among artists’ cinema, amateur movies, and family filmmaking as alternatives to commercial film production.
It’s the largest body of moving-image work created in the 20th Century; “The folk poetry of the people,” as the late filmmaker, poet, and artist Jonas Mekas, put it. And it must be championed. Watch the short film below.
In conjunction with the launch of “How to See Home Movies,” which is an extension of the the museum’s “Private Lives Public Spaces” exhibition, MoMA is inviting people to make their own home movies, as part of a #MuseumFromHome initiative. Consumers are challenged you to create a short home movie set in the past or the future; filters, props and costumes are encouraged. Some of the best will be shared on the museum’s Instagram page.
Visit MoMA’s website for more information.