Home movies provide window into how we lived

Posted February 20, 2015

— The Academy Awards scheduled for Sunday provide a good reminder that movies, even the amateur vacation video stored in closets, attics and shoe boxes, are part of our collective culture.

Some are stars, like Skip Elsheimer.

"​I, like everybody else, was in front of the home movie camera," he recalls.

"It's just as painful as you think watching yourself as a kid."

Others, like Elsheimer's grandfather, are the photographers and directors. 

Behind the camera was his granddad. 

"Traditionally people think that home movies are boring," Elsheimer said, "but when you start giving a distance in time, and a distance in place, then it gets fascinating."

He's grown to appreciate the moments saved and to anticipate sharing them with others.

Every now and then, usually in October, Elsheimer hosts a Home Movie Day – a recent one was in Durham – to help others in collecting, showing and saving the fading film.

"We are concerned that people are throwing these things away," he said. "They're actually culturally important too, because they show how we used to live.

"They show, sometimes in vivid color, how we used to celebrate, how we used to mourn, what we do on a day-to-day basis."

"It's incredible how things have changed," said Louise Koslofsky, looking at film she hadn't screened in 30 years.

Her collection includes footage of her son that she hopes to share with him. 

"Some naked baby pictures that should embarrass him," she described, "and some summertime pictures."

While clearing her grandmother's estate, Victoria Hartwell found film that may reveal family secrets."

"I need to ask my mom who that man is," she laughed.

Elsheimer treasures the common theme of an experience captured, frozen in time, a priceless peek at the past.

"The reason we do Home Movie Day is we are concerned that people are throwing these things away," he said.

"Don't throw your films away," he said. "Keep them in the family, and if your family isn't interested, let's find a place – a university, a historical society, a library and donate those films, because those documents are important." 

Elsheimer suggests that, even as technology evolves and more and more movies are transferred to digital files, families should keep originals on film as a keepsake.


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