A newlywed couple, in their tuxedo and white dress, smiled as they cut their wedding cake; a marching band paraded down a street lined with waving people; a small brown and black dog ran in circles on a lawn. Through the smiles of strangers and stills of old buildings, Home Movie Night at Cornell University’s Willard Straight Hall made the past come alive.
The inaugural event, organized by Cornell Cinema director Mary Fessenden and volunteer Desiree Alexander, is part of an 11-year-old international movement to celebrate and preserve 20th century home movies. This year, volunteers in 16 countries and 20 states signed up to organize and screen their communities’ home movies. The day teaches people that like historical documents, home movies should be saved, Alexander said.
“We stow them away in an attic or in a basement and they get warped and damaged,” she said. “This was a way to have communities get together and bring film together… but also let them know how they can go about saving it.”
Fessenden and Alexander organized the Cornell Cinema’s version of the event after meeting at a party where they found they had a shared interest in home movies.
The organizers invited community members to submit and show their own 8mm, Super8mm and 16mm films. During the screening, audience members were encouraged to talk about what they were seeing. Both Alexander and Fessenden submitted films, some found at yard sales and others from their families’ collections.
The audience also played “Home Movie Night Bingo”, marking down when they saw certain things, like a tricycle and Christmas tree, appear on screen. The game added to the fun of watching home movies, Alexander said.
“It’s a way to get the community talking; it’s like an oral history,” she said. “We get to learn about the people who bring the films and are willing to exhibit them.”
Although they didn’t receive a lot of submissions from the community, Fessenden and Alexander hope to get more submissions next year.
“We’re hoping this inaugural event will get people more excited to talk about it… and then when we do it again next year, more people will be familiar with it,” Fessenden said.
Upcoming screenings at Cornell Cinema such as “Our Nixon” and “Israel: A Home Movie,” use home video footage. These films inspired Fessenden to host Home Movie Night, and she hopes they will inspire others to see the impact home movies can have.