Smithsonian Film Fest Unveils Moving Images of Everyday Black Joy

By Sameer Rao Oct 24, 2018

The Smithsonian African American Film Festival features a full schedule of high-profile screenings—from “Take This Hammer” to “If Beale Street Could Talk”—that speak to the the breadth of Black cinematic excellence. But on the first day of the festival (October 24), host institution National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) took time to highlight a lesser-known component of Black film: analog home movies.

rntNMAAHC archivists and collaborating families showcased several amateur videos acquired through The Great Migration Home Movie Digitzation Project during a special session at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington D.C. The project allows Black families to submit home movies for digitization and archiving in the museum’s records. Media conservation and digitization assistant A.J. Lawrence explained during the session that this process both helps participants move personal memories off obsolete formats and allows filmmakers to use their footage—but only with each family’s consent and input. 

Two program participants spoke about their videos at the session. Economist Wilhelmina Leigh shared clips her parents shot of their life in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood during the ’60s and ’70s, and environmental organizer Zora Lathan used video of family gatherings to discuss the history of Highland Beach, a Maryland resort town founded by Frederick Douglass’ son Charles as the state’s first Black municipality.

Visit the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives or the NMAAHC to access the videos.