Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Found Footage

A report from the first Home Movie Day at the Amon Carter Museum.


It started with nothing. Literally. When Home Movie Day began at the Amon Carter Museum at last Saturday morning, the only people there were three members of the press corps. Soon afterward, the other two journalists finished taping and departed, leaving me alone with Michael Conklin, a Dallas-based audiovisual firm employee who agreed to run the event in Fort Worth.

The young, bespectacled man had brought in a number of home movies and was running them on three different projectors in turn. The films, with a few exceptions, weren’t made by Conklin or his family. He explained that he collects other people’s homemade films, buying them from garage sales, estate sales, flea markets, and eBay. He was turned on to the hobby at the University of South Carolina by his professor, Bill Morrison (who has achieved a degree of fame with his feature-length Decasia, an expressionist compilation of footage from decaying film stock that played at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival). “These films are like found art,” said Conklin, who buys them sight unseen. “You get these amazing shots of Las Vegas in the 1940s or Disneyland when it first opened, seen through the eyes of people who were actually there.”

Home Movie Day was conceived by the Association of Moving Image Archivists, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles dedicated to film preservation. In 22 cities across America, plus Toronto, Mexico City, and Toyohashi, Japan, screening rooms opened their doors Saturday to anyone who brought in home movies to show. It seemed logical to devote a day of observance to the medium, with Americans increasingly documenting their lives on camera and with the harrowing use of home movies in Andrew Jarecki’s recent documentary Capturing the Friedmans.

There wasn’t anything as sensational as that playing at the Amon Carter, though there were some rewards. People stayed away in the morning hours, but a small crowd of about 15 had trickled in by around 3 p.m. Marilyn Baierlipp of Keller came in waving an 8mm reel from 1975, saying, “I don’t know what’s on it. It might be porno.” While Conklin tried to figure out how to project her film, Janice Paden and her daughter Samantha Skiff, both of Fort Worth, showed up with footage of themselves as mother and newborn girl leaving a Virginia Beach, Va., hospital in 1967. In the meantime, with Baierlipp’s reel too big to fit on the only 8mm projector, Conklin at last contrived to run the film through it by holding the reel on a pen and letting it spill into a bucket under the machine. The footage wasn’t porn, as Baierlipp feared, but of her, squiring around her then-two-year-old daughter on a Hawaiian vacation. With the mystery reel solved, the afternoon appeared to be coming to a close, but one more person showed up. Fort Worth’s Gloria Dyson came in, somewhat out of breath, with a box of Super 8 reels of her children from 1966-69, as they grew up both here and in Big Spring, Tex. Like the other mothers who came in, she seemed buoyed by the experience of viewing footage that she hadn’t had a chance to see in years. “It might be the most boring thing in the world,” she said, “But I’m glad I saw it.”

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