Bloggers and vloggers — those who blog with video — have made their mark documenting history — most dramatically during the 2004 tsunami. Their forerunners where people who made home movies. And today, home movies are often a treasure trove for historians and film buffs. Since 2003, the Center for Home Movies has helped locate some notable ones. That’s when it began working with local organizations worldwide to screen these films for Home Movie Day. This weekend, two local organizations are hosting the event in Louisville for the first time. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports on what some local historians and film buffs hope to find.
Martha Kelly now lives in Brooklyn, New York. But she grew up in Lebanon, Kentucky, where her father, Wallace Kelly, worked as an artist and writer. She remembers during her early childhood her father also made amateur films of the family.
“That was the cast and the crew,” Kelly says. “Everybody was involved.”
In 2007, she heard about Home Movie Day being held in New York.
“I knew I had this wonderful collection of family films and I thought it would be fun to take one in,” she says.
Kelly brought in a silent 12-minute film called Our Day (link to film) that her father had made in 1938. It showed a day in the life at his family home and used creative filmmaking techniques on par with those used by Hollywood professionals. The images also contradicted stereotypes about life in a small Southern town during the Great Depression. It showed people reading, playing the piano and playing croquet. These qualities caught the eyes of film archivists who named it to the National Film Registry that same year.
While Kelly’s father was making home movies, so was Louisvillian Shirley Hemp. Today, the Filson Historical Society has several of his films dating to the 1920s.
The Filson’s executive director, Mark Wetherington, shows me one film that gives a glimpse of city’s growing east end.
“This is the Boulevard Napoleon. This is a surfacing project,” Wetherington says. “And one of the stories you get here is an idea of public works; city expansion, suburban expansion.”
Other films by Hemp show Charles Lindbergh’s visit to the city and ferries crossing the Ohio during the building of the George Rogers Clark Bridge.
Now, the Filson is partnering with the Louisville Film Society to host Home Movie Day here. The two will accept home movies in all formats starting Friday and show films at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Wetherington says he suspects there could be a lot of typical holiday scenes, but he’s open to surprises.
“It’s going to be a discovery for us,” he says, “just wondering what people are going to find in attics and garages.”
He says some images could prove useful to a range of historians — from those researching architecture to other subjects.
“Somebody interested in technology might try to see whether or not a lot of the houses have TV antennas on them — you just don’t know,” he says.
Through Home Movie Day, historical groups worldwide have found information that gives new context to history. Two years ago, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies found home movies showing new scenes from the 1950s desegregation at Little Rock high schools.
This was one of the ideas that gave birth to the event, says Home Movie Day co-founder Dwight Swanson.
“There are a lot of events and places only covered by home movies,” Swanson says. “And they let you see things in a different way and sometimes a much more revealing way than other types of historical documents.”
Louisville Film Society co-founder Ryan Daly agrees. Through his passion for home movies, he’s collected ones from own his family — and others.
“We got Roller Skating, 1980,” Daly says. “We got Jim’s Birthday in ’78.”
“Who’s Jim?” I ask.
“You know,” Daly says, “this whole canister of films I purchased at a yard sale.”
Daly says these and dozens of others he has contain clues to Louisville’s yesteryear. And he tells me the stories they contain also give us a valuable culture perspective.
“We might still make the same mistakes over and over, but at least we know we weren’t alone in history in making them.”