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Still from John Kneller's film 'Separation'. Image provided by ReFrame Film Festival.

Memory, Decay and Nostalgia in Home Movies: A Screening by Canadian Images in Conversation

Written by
Katy Catchpole
and
and
October 20, 2021
Memory, Decay and Nostalgia in Home Movies: A Screening by Canadian Images in Conversation
Still from John Kneller's film 'Separation'. Image provided by ReFrame Film Festival.

What kind of stories are told in home movies and who has the privilege of telling them? How do home movies produce an idealized sense of the past? How might we move away from reinforcing this idealized, often one-sided narrative?

These are all questions that emerged from the panel discussion about the online screening “Mining (And Manipulating) The Home Movie”, which was streamed live on October 16th and is available for viewing from now until Saturday, October 23rd. The screening was put on by Canadian Images in Conversation (CIIC), a new local collective that is inspired by the legacy of the Canadian Images Film Festival, which took place in Peterborough between 1978-1984. With support from the Ontario Arts Council, ReFrame Film Festival and Trent University, CIIC aims to showcase Canadian films and filmmakers through regular screenings and artist talks. 

The “Mining (And Manipulating) The Home Movie” program consists of eight experimental films from nine filmmakers, and was curated by Trent Cultural Studies graduate, Madison More. The screening was held in celebration of Home Movie Day, which since its inception in 2003 by the Center for Home Movies, has been a day dedicated to celebrating and preserving amateur filmmaking in Canada and throughout the world. The day also aims to be a resource for sharing knowledge about how to best care for and preserve home movies, which are often posited as a valuable source of historical material. This idea, however, is precisely the kind of logic that the films in the program attempt to address. Each film uses home movies (or some variation of historic footage), to distort, alter or disrupt the source material in order to speak to notions of memory and nostalgia as they pertain to both the personal histories of the filmmakers, as well as to broader social and political issues of privilege, nationalism and the dominant discourse of film itself. 

The filmmakers/panelists. Image provided by ReFrame Film Festival.

In all of these films the artist-filmmakers make their presence known through their meticulous manipulations of the footage, whereby the notion of the home movie as a ‘slice of the past’ is called into question by intruding onto the past (the manipulation of the original footage). Several of the artist-filmmakers directly address the idea that the home movie is an accurate or objective record of the past.

In Christina Battle’s film Nostalgia, Dick and Jane-esque figures of 1950s domesticity appear on the film strip, only to flicker in and out of perceptibility, as a flurry of ghostly shapes that dance and contort across the images. At times these manipulations disrupt the visible images entirely, as if nearly knocking them off the film strip. At other times, they seem to swallow them up, creating a collage of images and artist-manipulated material which are indistinguishable from one another.  While the films uses overtly nostalgic imagery associated with the 1950s, the total deconstruction of such imagery rejects any nostalgic interpretation of the past. 

In the panel discussion, some filmmakers suggest that the process of altering the footage provides cathartic access to a past which was previously unavailable to them, allowing them to insert themselves in a forgotten or foreign history. For others, it was about addressing the disconnect between the idealism that is often displayed in home movies and the actual lived family history that the artist knows to be true. For example, in Separation by John Kneller, familiar nostalgic images -- a family skiing, playing a game of outdoor ice hockey, shots from a local parade -- become less and less discernible as they are subject to transformations of colour and jarring superimpositions which disrupt their natural progression. While the images  gradually decline in legibility, they were distorted from the very beginning, perhaps raising questions about film’s supposed ability to ‘capture’ and preserve memory. 

Louise Bourque’s film Imprint, which features home movie footage that is subject to various alterations through scratching and dyeing, speaks to the artist’s sense of estrangement from the footage, as well as to the “idealization of the home, and it never being attainable,” as Bourque mentioned during the panel discussion.  The film’s title speaks to what Bourque referred to in the panel as her desire to “put her own mark” on the films and “dig through them metaphorically and symbolically” in order to push against the romanticized and nostalgic impressions they create. 

Still from Lindsay McIntyre's 'Her Silent Life.' Image provided by ReFrame Film Festival

Lindsay McIntyre’s film Her Silent Life also addresses the artist’s desire to become closer to her family’s history. McIntyre describes Her Silent Life as “a version of family” in which stories “flow” through the artist’s matrilineal line in order to explore the life and history of her Inuk great-grandmother (see McIntyre's Vimeo page for a full film description: https://vimeo.com/41359172). During the panel, McIntyre said that the theme of “mining” is especially relevant to Her Silent Life, as historically, the lack of access to film technology in Inuit communities means that home movies made by members of the community are few and far between. Her Silent Life helps to remedy this lack of visual material by creating a new home movie, and preserving and exploring a family’s history through the process. 

What each of these films speak to in different ways, is the value of allowing ourselves to imagine alternative histories, a pertinent phrase Lindsay McIntyre used in the panel discussion. Thinking about home movies as alternative histories offers new ways of thinking about their relationship to memory and the past, bringing to light important critiques of the genre. The films in “Mining (And Manipulating) (And Manipulating) The Home Movie” offer strange and unique reimaginations of the past, and encourage one to think about how their own family history, as told through the medium of film, may only present one version of the truth. 

All eight of the films, along with the recorded panel discussion, can be viewed online for free at https://watch.eventive.org/reframesummerseries until Saturday, October 23rd. For more information about Canadian Images in Conversation: https://canadianimagesinconversation.ca/

Film List:

Christina Battle, nostalgia (April 2001to present), 2005, 4 min, 16mm

Critiques our idealistic view of the past by distorting images and sound.

 

Eva Kolcze and Philip Hoffman, By The Time We Got To Expo, 9 min, Digital

Re-visits Expo 67 by manipulating footage from the event with different photochemical processes.

 

John Kneller, Separation, 2008, 6:30 min, 16mm

Separates the different colours of the film emulsion of home movies, drawing attention to the layered materiality of the film strip.

 

Amanda Dawn Christie, Mechanical Memory, 2005, 5 min, 16mm

Explores the decay of memory and the filmstrip using super 8mm footage taken by the filmmaker’s father.

 

Sara Angelucci, Snow, 2000, 5 minutes, digital

Uses the final fragments of home movies to create a series of “endings,” each one being obliterated by the white dots that appear at the end of each filmstrip.

 

Freda Guttman, Film Muet / Silent Movie, 1994, 9:20 min, digital

Experiments with 8mm home movie footage of the filmmaker to explore how familial roles are represented in the space of the home movie.

 

Louise Bourque, Imprint, 1997, 14 min, 16mm

Alters home movie footage of the filmmaker’s family home through tinting, bleaching, and other experimental practices.

 

Lindsay McIntyre, her silent life, 2011, 31 min, digital

Uses filmed images and audio interviews to explore the life of the filmmaker’s Inuk great-grandmother.



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