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part i Locating Contexts: Archive, Material, History, Place 1 A Place for Moving Images: Thirty Years of Northeast Historic Film Karan Sheldon Although they use as their material the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, the supermarket or city planning), although they remain within the framework of prescribed syntaxes (the temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic organizations of places, etc.), these “traverses” remain heterogeneous to the systems they infiltrate and in which they sketch out the guileful ruses of different interests and desires. They circulate, come and go, overflow and drift over an imposed terrain, like the snowy waves of the sea slipping in among the rocks and defiles of an established order. —Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life How are we to understand twentieth-century films made by regular people in light of their qualities of experimentation, the continuities and shifts in individual and family-based entertainments, and the intermingling of personal expression and popular culture? The collaborative creativity among women, men, and children in personal films has been largely unrecognized, imperiling the survival of home movies and amateur film in museums, libraries, archives, and other repositories. This essay calls attention to challenges faced by the custodians of amateur films and home movies, recognizes scholars who have spoken on behalf of personal films, and comments on issues in institutions promoting humanities and arts endeavors that have stood in the way of fuller recognition of these creative works. Personal films contain images of lives and landscapes, of gestures, colors, and interactions that survive only on these original reels of celluloid. Michel de Certeau’s phrase identifying consumers as “poets of their own acts” might describe the creators of home movies and amateur films as they moved in their worlds and framed particular visions. Becoming acquainted with these films as intentional works, despite their largely hidden flow in private spaces, “slipping in among the rocks and defiles of an established order,” may change our 18 | Karan Sheldon understanding of visual media. My argument derives from the experience of a moving image archive that has concentrated on collecting and sharing home movies and amateur film. Northeast Historic Film has a regional collecting mandate , northern New England, that has functioned as a filter, organizing criterion, and intellectual ground. The film examples are rooted in twentieth-century New England, inviting comparison among works made in this place within the span of five decades. Each personal film is both as common as the everyday and is also the sole instance, reflecting private lives, creative notions, engagement with photochemical and mechanical technologies and the culture of its moment. The Journal of Film and Video in 1986 published a special issue on home movies and amateur filmmaking. Fred Camper’s “Some Notes on the Home Movie” captured two concepts that seem no less important today to those concerned with personal film. Camper’s points are that home movies have been little understood, and archives for their care are necessary: “It would be presumptuous to offer anything but the most preliminary of taxonomies of the home movie. What is needed is first of all an archival source, in which all type and manner of home movies are collected and preserved. Then scholars could go about the work of screening, studying, [and] evaluating. My primary goal here is to assert that such a work should be done, especially now, when families are increasingly transferring their home movies to video. There is always the danger that this aspect of our cinematic heritage may be lost.” The same year as the special issue of the Journal of Film and Video, 1986, Northeast Historic Film was founded with a mission to preserve and make moving images of northern New England accessible.1 Camper identifies the motivating anxiety of loss when facing audiovisual technology’s shift from photochemistry to video; he states that the transition to videotape should provoke public and scholarly interest in finding and discussing home movies. While in the 1980s many regional archives understood that families transferring reels of film to videotape, usually VHS, and discarding the originals was a problem (Northeast Historic Film distributed notices to commercial transfer shops requesting that the originals of newly transferred materials not be thrown out), a related insight concerns the impulse to meet transience by visually securing the disappearing object. Camper stated: It is often remarked that important phenomena, both natural and man-made, are often appreciated only at the moment of their demise. In our nation’s recent history...


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