Think of Me First as a Person
Dwight Core, Sr. and George Ingmire, 8 min., 16mm and video, 1960-1975
Preserved by George Ingmire, the Center for Home Movies and the Library of Congress
Added to National Film Registry: 2006
Essay by George Ingmire
The reels of film, left in a vinegar rust
tell a story never mundane, through frames,
sprockets that behave like a time machine,
unraveling silver dye scrolls, releasing coal mines,
Christmas trees, murder mysteries, silkworms, childbirth,
hiding things that are too painful for gelatin and halides
Sometimes I think of these things that could
have been left on a curb, shelved in a thrift-store.
Where do memories go when items depart?
— George Ingmire
In 1995, Dwight Core Sr., my grandfather, passed away at the age of 73. Sometime after his passing, I discovered a box of his 16mm films that were in the attic of his house in Norfolk, Virginia. At that point, I had no intention to do anything with these films, other than to keep them from being discarded and, hopefully, one day finding a decent projector so I could watch them.
Most of the films are home movies: holidays, travel, graduations, family gatherings and so on. Others are harder to categorize: like the ‘murder mysteries’, inspired by a mix of Sam Spade and Edgar Allan Poe, that he made with this brother and friends in the early 1950s. He used to show us the murder mysteries, putting his hand over the projector’s lens when a topless woman appeared on the screen during the film, The Peepers Secret. He also made a film about the life cycle of the silkworm moth for a local television station that had a nature series.
Dwight Core’s story is not unlike many of his generation. He entered the military as a young man during World War II. After leaving the military, he started what would become a large family with his wife, Shirley, with four daughters (Carolyn, Nancy, Patricia and Cindy) and a son, Dwight Jr., who is the subject of Think of Me First as a Person. The film consists of a series of home movies shot by Core of his son, who was born in 1960 with Down Syndrome. The title of the film was inspired by a poem of the same name by Rita Dranginis which explores the point of view of the developmentally disabled:
You look at me with pity,
concern or indifference,
for I am a retarded child.
But you only see the outside of me.
If I could express myself
I would tell you what I am inside.
The narration in the film, read by Core, is a blend of part of Dranginis’ poem, along with an essay titled ‘My Favorite Child’, which was written by one of his daughters, Carolyn:
“When my brother Dwight, Dee for short, was born five years ago we were overjoyed. After four girls, my father was glad to see him. The day mother brought Dee home begins a very happy one, but did not end that way. Mother told us that our new baby would never be normal…”
Think of Me First as a Person confronts the challenges of raising a child with special needs at a time when less was understood about Down Syndrome; the guilt associated with not being able to fully provide the necessary care; but also looks to a possible future where more light will be shed on these challenges and the humanity of the child with special needs. Think of Me First as a Person represents the work of an amateur filmmaker who captured a personal story that was reflexive, poetic and sincere; yet, somehow transcended the personal by telling the universal story of giving voice to someone without the power to do so themselves.
The way Think of Me First as a Person came together in its present form is truly serendipitous. In 2006, I received an email from Helen Hill in 2006, a filmmaker based in New Orleans who was tragically murdered at her home in January of Helen was working with the Center for Home Movies to curate a screening in New Orleans for Home Movie Day in the fall of 2006. After the initial email, I communicated with Helen Hill about screening one of my grandfather’s films.
At that point, in 2006, I wasn’t aware of my grandfather’s then unfinished work, Think of Me First as a Person. With that said, I did come across a VHS tape of the narration for the film in 2002, without any context beyond the understanding that he was talking about his son, Dwight Core, Jr. – Intuitively, I made the decision to digitize the audio for preservation. It was only during my search through that box of films, that I found the 400-foot reel of a rough cut of Think of Me First as a Person. After telling my mother about these discoveries, she mentioned she had my grandfather’s notes for the film in her attic. She sent me the notes, which included his narration.
After having the original footage digitized and matching it with the narration, the film was screened at the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center in New Orleans for Home Movie Day in August 2006. In October of 2006, Dwight Swanson (one of the principal individuals responsible for Home Movie Day in New Orleans) screened Think of Me First as a Person in Anchorage for the Association of Moving Image Archivists. By the end of 2006, and after remarkable efforts by individuals within the archivist community, including Swanson, Think of Me First as a Person entered the National Film Registry.
Dwight Core, Jr. was still living when Think of Me First as a Person entered the National Film Registry. He was very proud of being the subject of a film, carrying a sharpie with him wherever he went, just in case anyone wanted his autograph.
Think of Me First as a Person was eventually released on DVD, making use of a 35mm print produced by Haghefilm, in the Netherlands, who restored the footage with some color corrections and contrast balancing. The DVD also features a 15-minute documentary about Dwight as an adult, shortly before his death in 2008 at the age of 48.
George Ingmire is a radio producer and filmmaker in New Orleans, Lousiana.