Images flickered onto the screen as a reel of film spun through an old projector at the New Haven Museum. Home Movie Day, an international celebration of amateur films, returned to New Haven on Saturday for the first time in seven years.
Established in 2002 by an international group of film archivists, this year’s event was held on Oct. 18 in hundreds of towns and cities around the world. The project seeks to both educate people about proper film care and to offer a chance for the community to view local home movies, said event co-organizers Molly Wheeler and Brian Meacham. Nine people submitted a total of 20 individual home movie reels to be screened at the event.
“Home Movie Day really brings together historians, librarians, film archivists, film enthusiasts and [audiovisual] geeks to create an environment in which film can be safely screened,” said Meacham, who also works as the archive and special collections manager at the Yale Film Study Center.
Because many attendees of HMD lack the equipment to view old films, the screenings were the first time in many years they had seen the footage, Meacham said. The movies were all silent and shot between the 1930s and 1970s — an era before the widespread use of video or digital cameras.
Peggi Ford Cosgrove, a New London resident and attendee of HMD, said she did not know what to do with her father’s old home movies until she heard about the New Haven event. Because her projector was broken, she had not seen the footage since the 1970s.
“In some ways it’s restored my childhood to me,” Cosgrove said.
Both Meacham and Wheeler emphasized the historical value of preserving home movies. When a film is transferred to a digital format, it can often get damaged, Meacham said. The film can be cropped improperly or transferred at the wrong speed. When cared for properly however, film outlasts other mediums like VHS and digital video.
The home movies were shown from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with subject matter ranging from people visiting an amusement park in the 1950s to a trip to Niagara Falls in 1932. Philip Rosenthal ’67, who both photographed and participated in HMD, showed and narrated his own home movie from the early 1980s. He said home movies record things with a thoughtful eye and are created not just for the moment, but for future viewing.
One movie from the New Haven Museum’s collection showed a 1938 festival in the Yale Bowl where New Haven Public School students performed dances and gymnastics in traditional colonial costumes.
The last showing was the home movie footage of an attendee named Holly Green.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” said Green as the Regular-8 film began to roll and the image of her grandfather showed on the screen. Despite never having viewed the footage herself, Green described the black and white film over a microphone to the rest of the audience. The movie showed her brother learning how to walk and ride a bike, her childhood friends playing in a sandbox in the 1930s and even Green herself in a bonnet as a baby.
“That little two year old now has seven grandchildren,” Green said, gesturing to a small boy on the screen. When the footage cut out and the screen went white, the audience clapped to show their approval.
A display table at the event offered a variety of pamphlets, including instructions on how to care for family videotapes and digital video files and a timeline showing the evolution of motion picture technology. The organizers also created a bingo card, where attendees could mark off certain moments during the movies, such as “decorating Christmas tree” and “RV/trailer.”
Meacham characterized home movies as a kind of popular or folk art, adding that the films capture the unique and unvarnished daily life of their makers in a way that no other medium does. He added that the advent of the iPhone has made the mundane aspects of life less interesting and less worthy of documentation.
Founded in 1862, The New Haven Museum is located at 114 Whitney Ave.
Correction, Nov 13: A previous version of this article uncorrected stated that Brian Meacham works at the Yale Film Studies Center. Meacham is the Archive and Special Collections Manager at the Yale Film Study Center.