Oct. 17--For some people, an afternoon watching someone else's home movies might be their definition of hell.
But those people might be missing something. At least, that's the premise of National Home Movie Day, an annual event that's coming up Saturday.
"They're a kind of amateur documentary," said Juan Carlos Kase, associate chairman of the film studies department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. "They're an historical record of people's clothing styles, their hairstyles, how people lived their lives 30 or 40 years ago."
Now the humble home movie is having its day, as National Home Movie Day finally comes to Wilmington.
The film studies department is playing host to an event from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday in King Hall Auditorium on the UNCW campus.
Area residents are encouraged to dig around in their closets or attics to find those old reels of 8mm, 16mm and Super 8 film -- the ones of the family trip to the Grand Canyon, of the reunion with Uncle Waldo and Aunt Kat, or of Mom and Dad's wedding.
Faculty and grad students will be on hand to advise visitors on how to preserve their celluloid memories. They'll help clean them off and rewind them if necessary.
Then, they'll screen as many home movies as they can. How much film they'll show depends on how many people turn out, Kase said. The department plans to set up a microphone so film owners can narrate their home movies if possible.
"We expect a lot of people haven't seen these films in years," Kase said. "Maybe they don't have the right projector or the right technology."
Those who'd like to show films are urged to come early, he added, since prepping them might take awhile.
Although movie houses have all gone digital now, Kase and other film scholars think that as much home movie film as possible should be saved.
Actually, film is a fairly stable medium, Kase said. Most home movies of the '50s and '60s will outlast VHS tapes, which deteriorate rapidly within 15 years or less, and will even outlive some digital media.
"I mean, I can't even recover my old college papers from the '90s because they're in an obsolete (computer) format," Kase said. "A lot of home movies are as beautiful now as when they were made."
Unlike early nitrate-based films, which decompose and can prove flammable, home movies from the '50s onward were generally shot on acetate film, which has an extremely long shelf life under proper conditions, Kase said. The single major exception is certain films from the 1970s, which are extremely prone to "vinegar syndrome," a sort of decay that reddens the images.
"If you hold your nose close to the film, you can smell a vinegary odor," Kase said.
Home Movie Day experts urge owners to consider making an "access" copy of home movies -- maybe a DVD -- so favorite films won't be worn by overuse. Then, they should preserve their existing films carefully, which generally means storing them in a cool, dry, dark place, Kase said.
If people don't want to keep their home movies, Kase and other film studies staffers can offer hints on how these can be donated for archival preservation.
Home Movie Day was launched in 2002 by film archivists who worried that families' films were being thrown out or lost in the video boom. This year, Home Movie Day events are scheduled in more than 30 U.S. cities and in 16 other countries.
The holiday has its own website -- www.HomeMovie Day.com -- and has been endorsed by such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns and John Waters, who calls Home Movie Day "an orgy of self-discovery."
"There's no such thing as a bad home movie," Waters said. "These mini-underground opuses are revealing, scary, joyous, always flawed (and) filled with accidental art."
Kase attended the Home Movie Day event last year in Raleigh, and had a good time. Participants relived memories they hadn't seen in years. He hopes Wilmington's first celebration will be as successful.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
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