Private Pasts and Future Publics
by Daniel Mauro — University of Texas at Austin
October 15, 2012 – 22:53
Recent decades have seen an increased interest in preserving and presenting home movies in a variety of settings, ranging from state historical societies and grassroots libraries to national archives and organized events such as Home Movie Day. The rally to preserve and present home movies has taken an array of forms, including those institutional, personal, and creative. Whatever approach may be taken, the various processes involved in preserving and presenting home movies necessarily affects the histories that may be created out of them. In turn, how are the histories of home movies being employed, and how are these histories affected by the intentions of those utilizing these materials?
Private Century (2005-2007) is a creative take on the repurposing of personal materials. Filmmaker Jan Šikl compiled home movies, family photographs, letters, diaries, and personal stories of Czech families from the 1920s through the 1960s and constructed these materials into an eight-part series for Czech television. What he creates is an intimate view into the lives of those on screen, processing twentieth century Czech history through the images and voices of individuals who experienced it. This clip from the episode “A Low-Level Flight” is indicative of connections made between private and public histories as the narrator speaks in the first person about both her relationship with her husband and her husband’s military training. Throughout this and the rest of the series, Šikl presents home movies both as personal experiences and illustrations of broader historical moments during a tumultuous time in Czech history.
Examples such as Private Century raise questions about the histories that may be told through home movies and the intentions of those constructing these histories. Whether or not decisions in preservation or presentation are explicitly or implicitly motivated through the ideologies or politics of those responsible, what are the further implications of narrativizing or mobilizing particular histories through home movies? Is the focus on content or context? In other words, what are the politics of recycling old media in new ways? Selecting particular home movies for preservation or presentation necessarily excludes others, and if home movies are emblematic of histories from unique perspectives, which of the countless home movies from private individuals should become a part of broader public discourses? And in turn, whose history is it?