This report on Ottawa’s first Home Movie Day event—“a resounding success”!—comes courtesy of co-host Nick Nguyen:
Saturday August 11, 2007 marked the fifth anniversary of International Home Movie Day, and the nation’s capital joined alongside venues across the world in celebration with the launch of Home Movie Day Ottawa (HMDO). Under the joint direction of Tina Harvey and Nick Nguyen, the inaugural event united local film conservators and archivists with artists from the Available Light Screening Collective to stage an evening exhibition that presented spectators with a curated programme of home movies contributed by the community.
Over twenty-five films spanning 8mm, Super 8mm, and 16mm gauges were donated as a result of an open call for submission in advance of the event, and each was inspected by conservator Andre Larivière to determine their suitability for public projection. It was with great disappointment and regret that heavy shrinkage prohibited the screening of a majority of reels that promised a cascade of fascinating testimonials, ranging from street footage of Toronto and Ottawa from the early 1940s, to a wedding that took place in Holland in the late 1930s. Time constraints also prohibited the projection of several 400 foot 8mm reels of visits to Jerusalem, Guatemala, Mexico and Lebanon from the 1950s.
Seven films were eventually selected for HMDO, each meant to be representative of the different formal practices associated with home movies. These films, depicting family anniversaries in Sarnia (1960/1973), family cross-country trips from Ontario to Disneyland (1960), the public occasion of a Space Shuttle landing at Uplands Airbase (1983), travelogues from San Francisco (1958) and Africa (1975), and eyewitnesses to the historical event of the Solidarity strikes led by Lech Walesa in Gdasnk (1980/81) were screened in an order that deliberately asked participants to challenge their familiar assumptions about who made them, who they were made for, and how they can be understood across a spectrum of different notions of privacy.
Club SAW provided an ideal venue for HDMO, as its cozy confines afforded an intimate space that was perfectly suited to encourage a participatory atmosphere for the crowded room. Backed by an ambient soundtrack of period music, each home movie was introduced by its donor as a way to establish their relationship to the reel and to provide context to the events depicted.
For many donors, HMDO represented the first time that they had seen these films. Their reactions and exclamations provided a running commentary to the onscreen action that was supplemented by questions and observations from the audience that drew out additional details of family histories and relationships alongside expressions of recognition and shared experiences. This unique dynamic created a special triangular conversation between the donor, the projected images, and the spectators that drew attention to the social function of home movies, which became the most effective framework to reinforce the importance of their preservation.
The conclusion of the screenings continued these conversations as audience members mingled with the HMDO organizers to share more information about what they had just experienced and what can be done to ensure that such experiences persist. As an outreach event that offered the community a space to contemplate home movies within broader contexts of personal memory, public history and film preservation., Home Movie Day Ottawa was a resounding success that was appreciated by all involved.