Preserving Home Movies

Courtesy Center for Home Movies

Other posts in the Sassy Jane Preserving series are here.

Preserving Home Movies

October 19 is International Home Movie Day 2013. The celebration began in 2002 by film archivists concerned about preserving home movies shot on film during the 20th century. Boxes full of family memories are sometimes not seen for lack of a projector, or out of fear that the films were too fragile to be viewed.

So haul out those home movies and have a family film festival. And after that pause for a moment and think about how you are saving home movies. Is the format outmoded? Is the film brittle? Are transfers on CDs unplayable? Are they still in shoeboxes in your attic? If you’re like me, you probably have some you hope never see the light of day. But I promise your family will find you adorable even in that awkward stage in junior high.

International Home Movie Day is a celebration of amateur films where family historians can meet with local film archivists, find out about the archival advantages of film over video and digital media, and—most importantly—get to watch those old family films! Because they are local events, Home Movie Day screenings can focus on family and community histories in a meaningful way. They also present education and outreach opportunities for local archivists, who can share information about the proper storage and care of personal films, and how to plan for their future.

Click on Home Movie Day events to find programs near you on 19 October. Most are free and offer expert evaluation of films brought in by participants. The Center for Home Movies is the organizing institution behind International Home Movie Day 2013. Their site says, ”If you have home movies on film that you’ve never seen, or haven’t watched since you inherited them from your grandparents–don’t let your films decay! Take them to Home Movie Day!”

Transferring home movies to DVDs is fine, but don’t expect that new digital copy  to last forever. Original films (and the equipment required to view them) can long outlast any version on VHS tape, DVDs, or other optical media. Not only that, but contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie image, the original films are often carefully shot in beautiful, vibrant color—which may not be captured in a lower-resolution video transfer.

What can you do if you don’t live near a Home Movie Day event? Frequent readers of this blog know that I always urge genealogists to take special care of their priceless family records. No-cost steps for saving home movies include:

• Store in a stable environment. No attics, no basements, no garages where the temperature and humidity cycle constantly.

• Steer clear of environments with exhaust, paints, or other chemical fumes

• Keep magnets (including the ones in cell phones and stereo speakers) away from films with magnetic soundtracks.

• Avoid storing near heating vents or on shelves that get direct sunlight.

• Retain original film even after you transfer it to another format

The Center for Home Movies also provides this list of resources:

The Center for Home Movies
Home Movie Day’s sponsoring organization.
Film Forever
The Home Film Preservation Guide. Includes tips on how to preserve your home movies on a budget.
Little Film
Information about home movie preservation, history and lab services. Written by Toni Treadway.
Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Amateur Film/Small Gauge Interest Group
Group for archivists interested in amateur film preservation. Includes instructions on joining Smallgauge, a listserve for discussion of amateur and 8mm film issues.
Home Movies: A History of the Amateur Motion Picture Industry in the United States
A page dedicated to Alan Kattelle’s book on amateur film history, including ordering information.
8mm Film Format Metadirectory
A comprehensive directory on all aspects of 8mm and super 8 filmmaking.
One Hundred Years of Film Sizes
A historical look at the development of amateur and professional film gauges.
Film Preservation Society (Japan)
Archivio Nazionale del Film di Famiglia (Italy) 
Italian Home Movies National Archive based in Bologna