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Home Movies and Amateur Films on the National Film Registry

Each year, the Librarian of Congress names 25 new titles to the National Film Registry. These films are intented to “showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.” Currently, there are 17 home movies and amateur films on the Registry.


The Augustas (Scott Nixon, 1930s-1950s)

Added to National Film Registry: 2012

Library of Congress description:
Scott Nixon, a traveling salesman based in Augusta, Ga., was an avid member of the Amateur Cinema League who enjoyed recording his travels on film. In this 16-minute silent film, Nixon documents some 38 streets, storefronts and cities named Augusta in such far-flung locales as Montana and Maine. Arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason, the film strings together brief snapshots of these Augustas, many of which are indicated at pencil-point on a train timetable or roadmap. Nixon photographed his odyssey using both 8mm and 16mm cameras loaded with black-and-white and color film, amassing 26,000 feet of film that now resides at the University of South Carolina. While Nixon’s film does not illuminate the historical or present-day significance of these towns, it binds them together under the umbrella of Americana. Whether intentionally or coincidentally, this amateur auteur seems to juxtapose the name’s lofty origin—’august,’ meaning great or venerable—with the unspectacular nature of everyday life in small-town America.

https://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A2217


Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (Esther and Raymond Dowidat, 1939)

Added to National Film Registry: 2001

Library of Congress description:
This fourteen-minute black-and-white silent documentary salutes the “good natured Germans or Hollanders” of Cologne, Minnesota as photographed by local amateur filmmakers Esther and Raymond Dowidat. Cologne, population 350, is located southwest of Minneapolis in the midst of dairy farms. When “examined more closely, the town is really quaint and picturesque” we’re told by Esther’s handwritten “diary” which serve as the film’s narration. It stands out not because its subject matter is particularly unique, but because it exhibits a cinematic sophistication and artistry not usually found in home movies, while capturing a distinct flavor of time and place.

https://www.filmpreservation.org/preserved-films/screening-room/t1-cologne-from-the-diary-of-ray-and-esther-1939


Disneyland Dream (Robbins Barstow, 1956)

Added to National Film Registry: 2008

Library of Congress description:
The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a “Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape” contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration (“The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut”), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.


The Fall of the House of Usher (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, 1928)

Added to National Film Registry: 2000

Library of Congress description:
Edgar Allen Poe’s classic tale of the macabre serves as the foundation for this 13-minute avant-arde film by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber. Startlingly stylized in composition, costume and set design, this version of the horror classic is as much interested in the tale’s psychological underpinnings as its haunting story. Filled with innovative editing, lighting and camerawork, “Usher” appears as modern today as when it premiered at the Film Arts Guild in 1929.

https://www.filmpreservation.org/preserved-films/screening-room/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-1928-2000kpbs


From Stump to Ship (Alfred K. Ames and Howard Kane, 1930)

Added to National Film Registry: 2002

Library of Congress description:
Alfred Ames, the president of the Machias Lumber Company in Washington County, Maine, purchased a 16mm moving picture camera in 1929 and with the help of a friend, Dr. Howard Kane, meticulously recorded the labor of woodsmen and horses. They created this 30-minute silent film to document his workers in all facets of the lumber industry from sawing down trees to running logs down rivers. Ames not only documented his family business, but he also created a cinematic record of the lumber industry.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIKCjQdxtO0


Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes family, 1920s-1930s)

Added to National Film Registry: 2017

Library of Congress description:
Longtime Corpus Christi, Texas, residents Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes (1895-1988) and Josefina Barrera Fuentes (1898-1993) were very active in their local Mexican-American community. Their collection of home movies — mostly from the 1920s and shot on 9.5 mm amateur film format — are among the earliest visual records of the Mexican-American community in Texas and among the first recorded by Mexican-American filmmakers. As with the best home movies, the images provide a priceless snapshot of time and place, including parades, holidays, fashions and the rituals of daily life. The beautiful images also reflect the traditionally fluid nature of the U.S.-Mexico border. The collection is a joint project between the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

https://tamucc-ir.tdl.org/handle/1969.6/9298


H2O (Ralph Steiner, 1929)

Added to National Film Registry: 2005

Library of Congress description:
Renowned experimental film by Ralph Steiner, who later served as cameraman and/or director on documentary classics such as “The City” and “The Plow that Broke the Plains.” “H3O” is a cinematic tone poem to water in all its forms, using lovely images and editing techniques of movement, shading and texture to produce striking visual effects.

https://vimeo.com/34810824


Multiple SIDosis (Sid Laverents, 1970)

Added to National Film Registry: 2000

Library of Congress description:
Former vaudevillian and amateur filmmaker Sid Laverents wrote, directed and starred in this short film that features a dozen split-screens of him playing a variety of musical instruments simultaneously. Each of Laverents’s musicians displays a different character withs its own costume and hairstyle as they unite to perform the song “Nola,” a novelty ragtime number popularized in the 1920s. Coupling his own ingratiating persona, painstaking in-camera multiple exposures and complex overdubbing, Laverents created a film that may be amateur but not amateurish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQz9ZjN6mkw


Nicholas Brothers’ Family Home Movies (Fayard and Harold Nicholas, 1930s-1940s)

Added to National Film Registry: 2011

Library of Congress description:
Fayard and Harold Nicholas, renowned for their innovative and exuberant dance routines, began in vaudeville in the late 1920s before headlining at the Cotton Club in Harlem, starring on Broadway and performing in Hollywood films. Fred Astaire is reported to have called their dance sequence in “Stormy Weather” (1943) the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. Their home movies capture a golden age of show business—with extraordinary footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood—and also document the middle-class African-American life of that era, images made rare by the considerable cost of home-movie equipment during the Great Depression. Highlights include the only footage shot inside the Cotton Club, the only footage of famous Broadway shows like “Babes in Arms,” home movies of an all African-American regiment during World War II, films of street life in Harlem in the 1930s, and the family’s cross-country tour in 1934.

https://www.oscars.org/academy-film-archive/preserved-projects?title=Nicholas+Brothers&filmmaker=&category=All&collection=All


Our Day (Wallace Kelly, 1938)

Added to National Film Registry: 2007

Library of Congress description:
Wallace Kelly of Lebanon, Kentucky, made this exquisitely crafted amateur film at home in 1938. “Our Day” is a smart, entertaining day-in-the-life portrait of the Kelly household, shown in both idealized and comic ways. This silent 16mm home movie uses creative editing, lighting and camera techniques comparable to what professionals were doing in Hollywood. His amateur cast was made up of his mother, wife, brother and pet terrier. “Our Day” also contains exceptional images of small-town Southern life, ones that counter the stereotype of impoverished people eking out a living during the Depression. The 12-minute film documents a modern home inhabited by adults with sophisticated interests (the piano, literature, croquet) and simple ones (gardening, knitting, home cooking). Kelly, a newspaperman, was also an accomplished photographer, painter, and writer. He began shooting film in 1929 and continued until the 1950s.

https://vimeo.com/18821259


Reverend Solomon Sir Jones Films (Rev. Solomon Sir Jones, 1924-1928)

Added to National Film Registry: 2016

Library of Congress description:
Solomon Sir Jones was a Baptist minister and businessman who also had an important career as an accomplished amateur filmmaker. Jones was born in Tennessee to former slaves and grew up in the South before moving to Oklahoma in 1889. As described on the website of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Solomon Sir Jones films in Yale’s collection consist of 29 silent black-and-white films documenting African-American communities in Oklahoma from 1924 to 1928. They contain nearly 355 minutes of footage shot with then-new 16-mm cameras. The films document a rich tapestry of everyday life: funerals, sporting events, schools, parades, businesses, Masonic meetings, river baptisms, families at home, African-American oil barons and their wells, black colleges, Juneteenth celebrations and a transcontinental footrace. Jones also documented his travels. IndieWire termed these films “the most extensive film records we have of Southern and urban black life and culture at the time of rapid social and cultural change for African-Americans during the 1920’s, the very beginning of the Great Migration, which transformed not only black people as a whole, but America itself.” The Smithsonian also has nine reels of film, comprising approximately two hours of footage. The films have been preserved by Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

https://beinecke.library.yale.edu/collections/highlights/solomon-sir-jones-films-1924-1928
https://nmaahc.si.edu


A Study in Reds (Miriam Bennett, 1932)

Added to National Film Registry: 2009

Library of Congress description:
This polished amateur film by Miriam Bennett spoofs women’s clubs and the Soviet menace in the 1930s. While listening to a tedious lecture on the Soviet threat, Wisconsin Dells’ Tuesday Club members fall asleep and find themselves laboring in an all-women collective in Russia under the unflinching eye of the Soviet special police.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs4wh0iVcls


Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (Barney Elliott and Harbine Monroe, 1940)

Added to National Film Registry: 1998

Library of Congress description:
In November 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed due to a combination of high winds and poor construction. The local camera store owner, Barney Elliot, captured the undulating bridge with his Bell & Howell 16mm movie camera just before and as the bridge collapsed. Elliott’s footage shows the bridge, nicknamed “Galloping Gertie,” waving and twisting for several minutes before finally collapsing into Puget Sound.


Think of Me First as a Person (Dwight Core, Sr. and George Ingmire, 1960-1975)

Added to National Film Registry: 2006

Library of Congress description:
“Think of Me First as a Person” is an astonishing discovery from the Center for Home Movies and its annual Home Movie Day, where once a year people in cities across the nation bring their home movies to screen. This loving portrait by a father of his son with Down syndrome represents the creativity and craftsmanship of the American amateur filmmaker.

http://www.thinkofmefirstasaperson.com


Topaz (Dave Tatsuno, 1943-1945)

Added to National Film Registry: 1996

Library of Congress description:
The Topaz Relocation Center, located 140 miles south of Salt Lake City, was one of 10 internment camps during World War II that housed thousands of Japanese Americans perceived as “alien enemies.” Internee Dave Tatsuno smuggled a Bell & Howell 8mm camera and color film into the guarded camp, and for two years recorded daily activities including church services, birthdays, meal preparation, snowstorms and sunsets. Tatsuno’s footage, a total of nine rolls of Kodachrome film that runs approximately 48 minutes, is the only color motion pictures of life inside an internment camp, and often features smiling evacuees. Tatsuno observed that his films lacked “the fear, the loneliness, the despair and the bitterness that we felt.”

http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/nikkeialbum/albums/270/


V-E +1 (Sam Fuller, 1945)

Added to National Film Registry: 2014

Library of Congress description:
The silent 16 mm footage that makes up “V-E +1” documents the burial of beaten and emaciated Holocaust victims found by Allied forces in the Nazi concentration camp at Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, as World War II ended in Europe. According to Samuel Fuller, who shot the footage while in the infantry unit that liberated the camp, the American commander in charge ordered leading civilians of the town who denied knowledge of the death camp to “prepare the bodies for a decent funeral,” parade them on wagons through the town, and bury them with dignity in the town’s cemetery. Fuller later became an acclaimed maverick writer-director known for crafting films that entertained, but nevertheless forced audiences to confront challenging societal issues. After making “The Big Red One,” a fictionalized version of his war experiences that included scenes set in Falkenau, Fuller unearthed his “V-E + 1” footage and returned to Falkenau to comment on the experience for the French documentary “Falkenau: The Impossible Years.”

https://www.oscars.org/film-archive/collections/sam-fuller-collection


Zapruder Film of the Kennedy Assassination (Abraham Zapruder, 1963)

Added to National Film Registry: 1994

Library of Congress description:
When Abraham Zapruder scaled a concrete parapet in Dallas, Texas to get a better view of President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade on November 22, 1963, the 58-year-old clothing manufacturer could not foresee that he would capture 26 seconds of film that would be scrutinized for decades to follow. As the president’s limousine passed in front of Zapruder, the amateur photographer was already following the motorcade with his 8mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic camera and recorded the fatal rifle shot that struck the president. Though other amateur film of the assassination exists, the Zapruder footage is considered the most authoritative record of the event.

https://emuseum.jfk.org/view/objects/asitem/items@:32274