- The Ascension of the Amateur
In 1986, the Journal of Film and Video (JFV) published a special issue on home movies and amateur film. Fred Camper's contribution to the issue, an impassioned article titled "Some Notes on the Home Movie," featured a call for the establishment of a home movie repository. "What is needed is first of all an archival source, in which all type and manner of home movies are collected and preserved," he wrote. "Then scholars could go about the work of screening, studying, evaluating." Suggesting that amateur film had long been considered too trivial a topic to warrant serious scholarly or archival attention, Camper argued for an urgent reevaluation of amateur film, appealing for archivists and scholars to recognize home moviemaking as a legitimate field of film practice. 1 Camper's remarks articulate a concern iterated elsewhere in the JFV issue: that as long as amateur film remains outside the purview of archival and scholarly activity, it faces the threat of erasure from the annals of cinema. Although, for those working in the field, it may have felt like a long time coming, twenty-five years after the publication of Camper's article, amateur film has finally received the institutional attention and legitimization long considered overdue. A number of archives exclusively or predominantly dedicated to amateur film now exist, with many other regional, state, and national archives also housing substantial collections of amateur film. In addition, a growing number of conferences and publications engaging with amateur film have emerged in recent years, illustrating a building of scholarly interest in the subject.
Two events held within a week of one another in September 2010 offered a chance [End Page 136] to reflect on the steadily increasing profile of amateur film in archival and academic contexts. Saving Private Reels, an international conference on amateur film held in Cork, Ireland, provided a forum for academics to showcase emerging research in the area. Across the other side of the Atlantic, the Center for Home Movies Digitization and Access Summit, a federally funded roundtable held at the Library of Congress (LOC) Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia, aggregated an international think tank to develop strategies for addressing access limitations currently facing the field of amateur film preservation. Whereas the first event displayed a more explicit scholarly focus, and the second dealt more exclusively with questions of access, both events engaged with the "object" and concerns of the other. Illustrating the marriage of archival and academic concerns articulated in Camper's article, these events allowed for a consideration of the role of academic and archival activity in legitimizing and establishing a public profile for amateur film. With a mix of academics and archivists in attendance at each event, discussions revealed a mutual appreciation of the functions that scholarship and archival activity serve in facilitating and encouraging public engagement with these films. Offering an opportunity to address the issue of broader public visibility, these two events suggested that despite the growing profile of amateur film in archival and academic spheres, accessibility and engagement continue to present challenges to amateur film's status in the general public arena. Both events invited participants to consider how we might also move beyond the imperatives of preservation and access to make amateur moving images pertinent in a contemporary climate. 2
Saving Private Reels
Saving Private Reels offered a superb illustration of this overlap between archival and academic imperatives and activity. Organized by faculty members at University College Cork (UCC), the conference was one component of a much larger project funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Titled "Capturing the Nation: Irish Home Movies, 1930-1970," this collaborative project involved the digitization of amateur films housed at the Irish Film Archive and an examination of these films by a team of UCC researchers. Representing the culmination of this two-year project, the conference offered UCC staff an opportunity to both share their research and showcase some of...