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Home movies belong to us

Rick Prelinger recently spoke about his enduring fascination with home movies, and his role as consulting curator for I AM HERE: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces, on view now at the AGO.

Prelinger Archives

Boy Twirling Hula Hoop (1958), film still courtesy of Prelinger Archives.

The inspiration for I AM HERE: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces originated with Rick Prelinger. A dedicated archivist, filmmaker, writer, professor and consulting curator for the AGO exhibition, Prelinger has been collecting found footage for the past four decades. What started in 1983 with a collection of “ephemeral films” – defined by Prelinger as films created for educational, industrial or promotional purposes – eventually ballooned to nearly 60,000 films acquired by the Library of Congress in 2002, with Prelinger co-founding The Prelinger Library in 2004. Today, the Prelinger Archives is a publicly accessible trove of nearly 20,000 home movies and counting, most documenting history as it was lived in 20th-century America. These are resonant scenes known by many, seemingly drawn from obscurity – dancing in living rooms, a wedding in the heart of Los Angeles, never-ending road trips, beloved pets meandering, the anticipation of Christmas mornings and more. Placed throughout I AM HERE are selections from the Prelinger Archives, culminating with PANORAMA, a 26-minute compilation of home movies accompanied by a musical score by David Wall.

In late April, Prelinger shared parts of his vast knowledge via Zoom, intertwining narratives from his career with the formation of the Prelinger collection. Unpredictable and intimate, what’s clear within these slices of the everyday life is that the impulse to record our daily lives, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is not new. “Home movies,” explained Prelinger, “are amazing documentation of people, places, events and activities that oftentimes aren’t well-documented elsewhere. There are probably billions of them. They’re ever-surprising. At the same time, they’re highly codified but infinitely varied.” 

Watch Prelinger’s full talk, a Q&A period and commentary by Jim Shedden, AGO Manager of Publishing and I AM HERE co-curator:  

 A subset of the Prelinger Archives, containing over 8,500 films, is available and accessible for all here, in partnership with Internet Archive. I AM HERE: Home Movies and Everyday Masterpieces is co-curated by Prelinger, Shedden and Alexa Greist, AGO Associate Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings. The exhibition is on view at the AGO through August 14.

Buy your copy of the exhibition’s catalogue, which includes more contributions by Prelinger, online or in-person at shopAGO

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