Home Movie Day at UWM hopes to reel in nostalgia, promote preservation

Remember that film or video that your parents took when you were 3 sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall? The one that you haven’t seen in ages because no one in your family seems to have the right equipment anymore to play that piece of nostalgia?

Well, Shiraz Bhathena, digital archivist at UWM Libraries, has come up with a fun way to relive those moments.

Bhathena and fellow organizers are hosting Home Movie Day at UWM. Members of the public are invited to dust off those old film reels or VHS tapes and bring them to campus to watch in a theater. Those grainy memories will be shared on screen with other attendees also looking to replay home movies.

Shiraz Bhathena and Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

Donations of home movies to the university’s Film Studies program or the library will also be shown. UWM volunteers will be on hand to show how to make basic repairs.

Home Movie Day will take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15, in the theater located in Room B91 in Mitchell Hall, 3203 N. Downer Ave. If you’re up for sharing your home movie Saturday, you’ll also be invited to narrate what’s happening to the audience.

The event is free and open to all, including those who don’t have a home movie to share but just want to take in the experience. Light refreshments and door prizes are being provided by Supernova Coffee & Doughnuts and Fischberger’s Variety store. Attendees can also play Home Movie Day Bingo, looking out for what Bhathena describes as items or scenes that might be common in home movies, like a Christmas tree, a bathing suit or someone shielding their face and hiding from the camera.

Tami Williams

Volunteers will not be digitizing old home movies and videotapes, but will offer tips for care and recommendations for places to go for digitization.

Bhathena came up with the idea when he first arrived at UWM in 2019 after having volunteered at a home movie day event while working in Los Angeles. But COVID forced him to put his plans on hold here.

With more normalcy returning to campus, Bhathena thought the Fall 2022 semester would be the right time to start rolling on his idea. He reached out to Tami Williams and Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, associate professors in English and film studies, to help organize the event.

Szczepaniak-Gillece, director of the film studies program, hopes Home Movie Day provides perspective of the importance of preserving original recordings. The public is invited to bring in media in the following formats: 8 mm, Super 8, 16 mm, VHS and mini-DV, as well as digital formats.

A self-described “romantic film historian,” Szczepaniak-Gillece said that recordings on 8 mm, Super 8 or 16 mm film can be especially meaningful.

“Light bounced off the person who is being shot by the cameraperson and made a record onto the film negative,” she said. “That is a physical manifestation of something that actually touched that person, and I think there’s something really nostalgic, sweet and meaningful about that.”

Bhathena appreciates the authenticity of home movies, in contrast to staged Hollywood productions. In home movies, “we get to see what a real house looked like in, say, the 1940s, and not the way that Hollywood wanted you to see it,” he said.

Home Movie Day also necessarily won’t be a quiet experience for the audience. Those watching will be invited to speak during screenings and give historical context about what they see. For instance, Bhathena said, someone might want to explain a social norm or style of clothing seen in the home movie that may be outdated today.

Bhathena plans to share a home movie, too. The scene: It’s the holiday season in 1987, when he was 3. He and his 5-year-old sister were sitting on Santa’s lap at Brookfield Square Mall.

“I’ll be trying to explain that I want a board game, Bed Bugs, that had come out,” he said as Szczepaniak-Gillece laughed.

“That was Santa’s reaction as well,” he added. “News flash: I did not get the game.”

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