2001 Symposium

2nd Annual Summer Film Symposium, July 25, 2001

NHF’s second annual Summer Film Symposium took place July 25, 2001 at the Alamo Theatre in Bucksport, Maine. The gathering was moderated by Tricia Welsch, Chair of Bowdoin College’s Film Department. Support was provided by the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Community Foundation.

Several speakers have kindly agreed to share their remarks in various forms online. Use the menu below to visit their pages.

The purpose of Home Movies and Privacy was to share a theoretical and practical base of knowledge for anyone interested in working with amateur film. Historical societies, museums, media producers, teachers, and artists are finding that home movies area a rich point of departure for interpretive and creative activities. The Symposium was an opportunity to meet colleagues with shared interests, while introducing the research opportunities available at Northeast Historic Film. Screenings took place during the day and evening.

The Symposium began with a remembrance of Erik Barnouw led by Patricia Zimmermann. Later there was a lobster dinner in honor of NHF Advisor Alan Kattelle, author of Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979, and donor of the Kattelle Collection, which includes The Making of an American, a fragment of the lost MGM film The Rogue Song, and The Fall of Jerusalem, all recently preserved. David Weiss, Toni Treadway, and Bill O’Farrell spoke in tribute to Kattelle.

The speakers were Patricia Zimmermann, Ithaca College, on the historiography of amateur film; Mark Neumann, University of South Florida, on Freud, gender, and performance in home movies; Eric Schwartz, Smith & Metalitz, on copyright and intellectual property law in regard to home movies; and Eric Schaefer, Emerson College, on the production and distribution of adult
films for the home market.

Dan Streible, Department of Art, University of South Carolina, reported on the Symposium for the Maine Humanities Council. He said:“The four keynote speakers were all nationally recognized experts. Each addresses an aspect of the topic that was quite distinct from the others. Dr. Zimmermann’s opening talk provoked discussion on several key issues. She laid out an argument for the importance of home movies as a significant genre of film in its own right, not just as accidental records of times and places, but as forms of expression that should be valued because they counter the commercial features that so often distort peoples and places. She deliberately provoked the symposium to think about home movies not as nostalgic documents of happy families, but as imprints of fundamental traumas, dysfunctions and conflicts that lurk beneath the veneer of functional rituals. She also made a broader case that home movies and amateur films (and video) need to be mainlined into all of what we study as ‘Cinema,’ so that Hollywood films can be seen for what they are: a minority practice among a diverse array of many forms of visual culture.

Dr. Neumann’s research on Freud’s home movies and the Freudian interpretation of all home movies was a fresh and innovative investigation of some primary documents that should certainly be given more exposure. He screened excerpts of home movies shot in the 1920s and 30s by Sigmund Freud, by protégé Dr. Lehrman, and by individuals whose work survives in the NHF collection. Like the best of humanistic research, Neumann’s work made us see familiar things in strange ways. Approaching simple amateur recordings with a psychoanalytic lens, we suddenly see everyday acts and odd on-camera performances by everyday people as revealing, less-filtered expressions of latent psychic desires and motivations.

Attorney Eric Schwartz’s pragmatic application of copyright law to home movies and amateur films was highly informative. Given his well-known expertise on the subject and his successful advocacy for film preservation, Schwartz’s presence helped energize the atmosphere. While his descriptions of copyright law were debated in their application and philosophy, it was valuable for the educators, archivists and filmmakers present know the legal standing and rationales for using amateur films.

Dr. Schaefer’s lecture on the history of home markets for ‘adult films,’ like Zimmermann’s general call for recontextualizing all of film history amid the infusion of amateur film, was a persuasive demonstration of the prevalence of non-Hollywood films in peoples’ everyday lives. The same consumers of 8mm and 16mm cameras and projectors who shot traditional ‘home movies’ (birthday parties, Christmas mornings, etc.) frequently also purchased films manufactured in the show-at-home industry. Perhaps the majority of these films were a variety of adult films, ranging from nude ‘art’ studies to explicit porn. Finding evidence of so many productions, sales and prints, Schaefer’s research suggests that our understanding of what audiences saw (both at home and in theaters) is severely distorted and unrepresentative if we limit our conception of film history to Hollywood or high art cinema.

Finally, the symposium concluded on two positive notes. A useful evaluation was conducted by moderator Dr. Welsch and ideas were advanced about how to plan for a third NHF symposium. The lessons learned about home movies were expanded outward, to a broader conception of how we should mobilize these ideas in education, particularly in public education and media literacy projects. This is an important and desired outcome for events of this sort. Putting new knowledge to work for the public good is what a humanities council and an archive should be doing. All of the participants at this symposium were enthusiastic about making the materials and ideas accessible to both formal educational institutions and the general public.”