‘Home Movie Day’ brings UW archivists to Brookfield

By TOM JOZWIK - TimeOut Film Critic

March 17, 2016


Photo by Benjamin Stein
Film archivist Amy Sloper is in the process of inspecting a reel of super 8 film that was submitted for viewing during a 2014 “Home Movie Day” in Madison, like the one that will be in Brookfield on April 2.

A yeoman’s job by a carload of professional and student archivists will soon journey from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the Brookfield Public Library.

Led by Amy Sloper, film archivist at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research on the UW campus, the archivists are people on a mission: to inspect, clean and repair library patrons’ home movies on April 2.

Patrons are welcome to bring 8 mm, 16 mm, Super 8, DVD and videocassette films to the Community Room of the library at 1900 N. Calhoun Road - and to view the home movies of others - that day. Check-in will begin at noon and the archivists will work from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Although not required, it has been recommended that persons wishing to avail themselves of the free service register to do so, on or before March 25, by calling 262-782-4140.

Brookfield’s “Home Movie Day” anticipates similar activity at locations across the United States, much of it scheduled for October. The refurbishing program is a relatively new one, sponsored by the Center for Home Movies - a national organization on whose board Sloper serves. Home Movie Days occurred in Madison and Green Bay last year and are slated for Bayfield, Eau Claire and Hayward, this summer, said Polk County native Sloper.

“We make a lot of little repairs,” noted the archivist. Sloper additionally pointed out that, while “DVDs won’t last forever, film (can) last for hundreds of years if you take care of it right.”

Just why are home movies important? Because, said Sloper, a home movie “shows a way of life, the landscape” of our country and “how people celebrated Christmas” and other special occasions. Not exactly living history, perhaps, but something of a facsimile.

And why are the archivists coming to Brookfield? “There was a piece on ‘CBS News Sunday Morning’ about a year ago,” Sloper said, with regard to the movie day phenomenon. Interested viewers were directed to a website; there was interest among Brookfield’s librarians; and the rest, as they say, is history - or will be history at the completion of the local movie day April 2.

As one who “was always interested in film,” Sloper concentrated on that area of communication as an undergraduate in the communication arts department at the UW-Madison (an institution and a city, she indicated, that has traditionally had “a real strong film culture”). Her development of an interest in the technical aspect of film led to a master’s degree in moving image archiving from the University of California, Los Angeles’s School of Theater, Film and Television, which in turn led to Sloper’s current “dream” job as film archivist based at her undergrad alma mater. Sloper also is a lecturer in the UW’s School of Library and Information Studies.

Part of the archivist’s job, and that of the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research, as Sloper phrased it, “is outreach for the state.” That’s why she and her team will be traveling in the near future between Madison and Waukesha County.

Determining if film can survive a screening

Film archivist Amy Sloper explained what she and her team look for:

“Prior to projecting any film, we inspect it by hand to ensure that it will run through the projector without problems. Basically, we are checking to make sure that the film, which in most cases is at least 30 years old and at most 70-plus years old, has not degraded over time.

“We check that the film has not shrunk over time - it is made of an organic material that goes through a number of chemical reactions as it ages. If it has shrunk, often a result of being stored at improper temperature or humidity conditions, the perforations (or holes in the side of the film strip) may not line up with the sprockets, or the metal notches, in the projector. If this is the case, running the shrunken film through a projector with fixed metal sprockets will tear the film to shreds.

“We also check the integrity of each splice, which is a spot in the film where two pieces have been fixed together with either tape or cement, to be sure that it will not break in the projector. Often we need to re-splice sections of a film before we can project it.

“Finally we add plastic leader to the head and tail of the film, to protect it both while stored and while projected.

“For any film that we are unable to project, we can send folks home with information about having their film transferred and for proper storage of both the original film elements as well as the digital files or DVDs they might get back from a lab.”