Preservation of Home Movies - Basic Guidelines

Much of the world’s visual history is contained within the reels of films that were filmed by amateur filmmakers and typically referred to as Home Movies. Home movies are collections of 8mm and 16mm film that documented the everyday life of a family, events, travels and holidays. Starting in the late 1920s, movie cameras were available to the general public for capturing footage of their era. Nowadays, these home movies are being lost due to a chemical breakdown of the film known as “vinegar syndrome,” or due to neglect as these films are passed to the next generation who no longer values them. Either way, it is a terrific loss of our visual moving image history. So what should be done to preserve these home movies for future generations?

Films need to be stored in a cool, dry environment. Don’t store films in an attic or basement. Make sure to keep the films away from any moisture, as water will quickly destroy films. Do NOT seal films inside plastic bags, as films need to “breathe” since trapped vapors can accelerate the dreaded vinegar syndrome that will ruin a film. Keep the films in their original plastic or metal cans, as these are good at protecting films from physical damage.

While films can last 50 or more years when stored under ideal conditions, they can still be accidentally destroyed by a natural disaster, flood or fire. Therefore it is highly advisable to make digital backup copies of your home movies and then store these digital copies offsite. The more backups and offsite locations the better for the long-term survival of your home movies.

As part of a preservation strategy, there may be a time to donate your home movies to an organization that has the expertise to maintain and preserve them. Depending upon your collection of home movies, there may be a film archive organization that would be interested in preserving them. On the links section of this website I have provided a comprehensive list of film archives located around the world.

Another option (many times frowned upon by film archivists) is selling your home movies on Ebay. There are collectors of home movies who will buy them from you. Not all collectors have the skills or desire to preserve your home movies, so this can be a risky option if your intent is the long-term preservation of your films. Nonetheless, Ebay is an effective distribution platform for getting films into the hands of people who will “hopefully” value them.

Look around this website for additional information on making and storing digital backups of your home movies. Feel free to email me with any questions on some of the “best practices” of preserving your home movies. I also collect and preserve home movies and therefore actively deal with these important issues involving the long-term preservation of our moving image history.

All the best,
Craig McCourry

American Film Archive


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