Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories

By Karen L. Ishizuka; Patricia R. Zimmermann | Go to book overview

2 The Human Studies Film Archives,
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

JOHN HOMIAK AND PAMELA WINTLE

The Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) was founded in 1975, as the National Anthropological Film Center in the National Museum of Natural History, through the coordinated efforts of a small but passionately committed group of anthropologists and filmmakers. In 1981, as the result of a reorganization, the HSFA was given its current name and became a part of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. Although the HSFA was initially conceived as a repository for historical and contemporary ethnographic film records, staff soon realized that a much broader range of films would significantly contribute to a moving-image history of world cultures, many of which underwent rapid changes during the twentieth century. Amateur films have proved to be an important source of visual documentation of cultures in transition.

The HSFA’s archival collection is composed of over eight million feet of original film and a thousand hours of original video. In addition to film documentation made specifically for ethnographic use, the HSFA’s eclectic collection also consists of theatrical travelogues, travel-lecture films, theatrical and television documentaries, video and film oral histories, and amateur films. These amateur films were generated by a wide variety of creators, including missionaries, colonial agents, adventurers and explorers, educators, and tourists, as well as social and other scientists working in remote areas. Approximately 20 percent of the archival collection could be described as amateur film or video.

The HSFA selects amateur film based on a number of criteria, including geographical area, cultural group or groups, creator, uniqueness of content, donor requirements and restrictions, condition of collection, and availability of supplementary information. The two criteria of greatest significance are availability of supplementary information or annotation (synchronized

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