Home Movie Day offers a chance to see into the past, and burn it to DVD | Film Beat | Indy Week
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Home Movie Day offers a chance to see into the past, and burn it to DVD 

An unidentified couple near Hendersonville, N.C., circa 1946-48

Photo courtesy of Skip Elsheimer

An unidentified couple near Hendersonville, N.C., circa 1946-48

Perhaps you have them in a dusty box on a closet shelf. Perhaps, lacking a projector, you've carried them halfway out to the trash, but you hesitated and put them back in the closet. No, you can't get rid of these reels of old home movies. Maybe you can watch them someday.

That day arrives this Saturday, when you can bring your reels to be projected at the seventh annual Triangle Home Movie Day in Raleigh, a chapter of an international event started in 2002. This year more than 60 groups will gather to watch flickering screens in darkened rooms as far flung as São Paulo, Tokyo, Calgary and Milan.

Eyes will well up as relatives who have passed on come alive again, cutting their wedding cake or raising a martini glass. Laughs will ring out as grandparents provide narration over footage of their grade-school selves pelting a sibling with snowballs. Everyone in the dark will become temporary extended-family members for the three-to-five-minute duration of the reel.

Home Movie Day not only celebrates the golden (and Technicolor) age of small-gauge film. It's also an opportunity to have a communal experience that doesn't often happen today.

Here's how it works. Bring a few reels of regular 8, super 8 or 16 mm motion picture film (no video, filmstrips or slides). Co-organizers Marsha and Devin Orgeron, associate professors of film studies at N.C. State, check films in, volunteers inspect them for damage and splice leader onto them, and Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks fame threads them into the appropriate projector.

Then everyone settles in to watch the magic. "Half of the fun for people who don't have home movies is just to see other people's movies, because they're interesting," says Marsha Orgeron.

"There's this myth of 'Ugh, the home movie' that we all remember from our childhood, the hours of sitting in the living room reliving these vacations or events.

"But it's pretty incredible to look at the snapshot of cultural history that you get in these images of the quotidian and daily ordinary life. They're kind of extraordinary to us when we're looking back."

Elsheimer will also have a Telecine to digitize movies as they're being projected. You'll walk out of the event with your old film in hand, and he'll mail you a free DVD copy a few weeks later if you leave an address. The Raleigh event is the only Home Movie Day in the world that offers this service on the spot.

The big message of the day is: Don't get rid of your old home movies! They last, and they're the original copies. "The idea of having a digital copy of your home movies is fantastic, so the average person can access it anytime. We strongly encourage people to have their films transferred," says Orgeron. "But film is still your best shot at having access to those precious images and memories."

"If you think about the fact that even 10 years ago, if you would have had your home movies transferred, you would have had them on VHS. And how many people do you know right now who still have VCRs?"

Home Movie Day moves to a new, more historic venue this year. The gorgeous State Archives auditorium, which Orgeron calls "a really magical old Raleigh place," is as frozen in time as these movies are.

"Even for those of us who didn't grow up interacting with film, there's a kind of nostalgic experience of seeing movies projected, of hearing the whirr of the projector and seeing that kind of image flickering on the screen. And that sense of a kind of communal experience that I think Home Movie Day taps into in a really wonderful way."

People whose films are projected are encouraged to stand up and narrate them for the crowd. It's a fun way to settle into the idea of a shared past. Everyone was a baby once. Everyone marks key moments in their lives by keeping images of them.

Kids in particular enjoy playing Home Movie Bingo during the projections. Instead of B2 and N23 in the squares, these squares say Pedal Pushers, Santa Claus, Handlebar Mustache, Tube Socks, Pipe or Martini Glass. Spot the item in a movie and cover the square. And if you win a round, you just might take home fabulous prizes from Cameron's in Chapel Hill.

Home Movie Day is Orgeron's favorite day of the year. The best part, she says, is seeing people reunited with their memories.

"Usually once on Home Movie Day there's a pretty emotional moment where somebody has their breath taken away by what they're seeing. That's probably the most rewarding moment of the day—when somebody sees someone whom they've lost or haven't seen in many years. A wedding or a child right after he or she was born.

"It's different from a photograph or a slide, when you see someone animated and moving. Even though most of the time there's no sound, just seeing people animated in that way... it's uncanny and it's a pretty emotional experience. That's part of its value: to allow people to have that experience that they haven't been able to have for so many years."

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