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Milwaukee’s Home Movie Day reels in the nostalgia

Video casette tapes. Free public domain CC0 photo.
Video casette tapes. Free public domain CC0 photo.

Archiving is essential. It’s how we ensure knowledge survives and that we can access it when the moment calls. It’s about our collective memory and understanding ourselves as individuals.

But there’s more to archiving than the stuffy, dusty perspective you’re probably imagining — storing records for history and research. Find the right niche, and archiving becomes a form of entertainment the whole community can enjoy and benefit from. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives Department and Film Studies Program proved that as they hosted their first Home Movie Day. 

I had this event marked on my calendar for weeks. Think of it as a screening of films that captured the lives of your neighbors, your friends and especially yourself. It took place in a small dark theater in the basement of Mitchell Hall — a great spooky backdrop except for the people gathering to give it more life.

Down the center aisle was a projector with a volunteer standing by to handle the footage people brought. And when the screen lit up, it wasn’t a typical movie theater experience. In fact, talking was encouraged. Participants who brought home movies provided insight to what was happening on the big screen while the audience pointed out interesting things they noticed.

One of the videos was from 1972, and I sat there watching ordinary life through the lens of real Milwaukeeans as snapshots flashed on the screen. There were kids riding bikes with cars zooming in the background. A grandma winning a game of cards, smoking a cigarette and being camera shy. A can of Campbell’s soup sitting in the corner, placed perfectly in a typical Midwestern kitchen.

It was emotional and surreal all at the same time. It no longer felt like I was in a theater, but in a big living room with the whole family watching alongside me. Even though it wasn’t my family on the screen, it didn’t matter.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee