July 24–26, 2014, Bucksport, Maine
Now in its fifteenth year, the annual symposium held at Northeast Historic Film in Bucksport, Maine, continues to provide a valuable site for exchange among scholars, filmmakers, archivists, and collectors fascinated with nontheatrical and noncommercial moving images. The small scale of the gathering and its symposium format, in which speakers are given a longer presentation time than in a typical conference and where there are no conflicting presentations, continues to be one of its most productive attributes. This structure makes it possible for speakers to augment their talks with ample filmic examples or, in some cases, to screen entire short films. Participants are able to attend all talks, and in contrast to the hurriedness of some scholarly and archivist conferences, the pace of the NHF Summer Symposium feels downright indulgent in the best possible sense.
Symposium co-organizers Mark Neumann, Janna Jones, and Jennifer Jenkins continue to find innovative themes to help structure the three-day event while permitting a breadth of approaches to the year’s theme. Several years ago, they introduced the Wunderkino, or “cabinet of curiosities,” approach to the symposium that has enabled a wide range of methods, films, and ephemera to find a place. This year’s theme of “Visions of House and Home” helped sharpen the focus of the symposium without losing any of its inclusive scope. Presenters productively interpreted the topic through aligned concepts of domesticity, intimacy, and space as well as via a variety of physical places that could be defined as house or home.
Keeping with tradition, the symposium kicked off with a presentation by the previous year’s William S. O’Farrell fellowship recipient. Graeme Spurr, from the University of Glasgow, drew on Northeast Historic Film’s rich archival holdings to present three case studies that explored the transnational and transmedial intersections of amateur film and video production. In his first case study, Spurr demonstrated, via letters and reviews published in amateur filmmaking magazines, that a transatlantic exchange of amateur films in the early 1950s between Britain and the United States instigated a minor skirmish regarding their respective quality. In his second example, Spurr analyzed a video shot by Richard G. Rockefeller documenting a Students for a Democratic Society protest and how video shooting style and aesthetics differed from contemporaneous filmmaking approaches. And finally, Spurr compared home video and home movie production to provide evidence in support of James Moran’s contention (presented in his 2002 book There’s No Place Like Home Video) that video is more inclusive in presenting alternate visions of the family than the idealized tropes found within most home movies. Although the linkages between these three, rather discrete, case studies were not always readily apparent, they were pulled together by Spurr’s impulse to challenge some of the prevailing assumptions about amateur media production, aesthetics, and history.
The following two presentations addressed the conference theme directly and featured, as a central organizing motif, the role of a house as a physical structure. Oliver Gaycken (University of Maryland, College Park), for example, delved into the work of Dick Proenneke, who went to live alone in the woods of Twin Lakes, Alaska, in 1967, only taking with him an initial supply of nonperishable food, some tools, and a 16mm camera. Proenneke documented, both in image and word (he also kept a journal), his life in the woods and the construction of the cabin he built, where he resided for the next thirty years. Gaycken traces a lineage from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden through Proenneke’s work to that of experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas to argue for the thematic resonances between nature, amateur filmmaking, and experimental cinema. A more literal understanding of house also helped shape Michael McCluskey’s (University College, London) presentation on films taken from 1930–33 documenting Britain’s Egyptian Exploration Society’s Tell el-Amarna archeological excavation along the Nile. McCluskey’s [End Page 127] analysis of the depiction of the archeologists’ residence, known as the dig house, illustrated the manner in which the house operated as a stand...