Media is a predominant force in all our lives. Much of our time is spent trying to get tickets to the newest blockbusters, watching countless hours of television, listening to the radio and albums, trying to decide which films to rent or buy, and debating the merits of all of the above and the people that create them. Media has always been important, but in the last couple of decades, ordinary individuals and families have been able to get involved in particularly exciting ways.
Some of our parents or grandparents were lucky enough to get their hands on
8mm cameras and they wasted no time capturing disjointed seconds of people standing
around waving, poorly-lit shots of unidentified babies smiling enthusiastically,
and long, jerky shots of random scenery during vacations to far away places.
They were probably not big on labeling and after shooting promptly dumped each
reel into a big box where its chronology was lost forever.
Still, these films are precious to us for their historic, documentary, and emotional value, and we watch them vigilantly, trying to recognize familiar relatives and places. None of us who have discovered film or video footage of ourselves as children can deny the wonder and interest of watching our decades-younger selves doing things we don't remember. However, film equipment was still a novelty, and cameras were certainly not standard family possessions. Our own children may not be able to say the same—now video cameras and even editing equipment are available for almost all purposes and budgets. We are raising families in a different world, with a wholly new omnipresence of media, and we are invited to participate.
How valuable is family cinema? What can we do with it? Family video footage is invaluable and we can do anything we choose to with it. It is a way of documentation, of capturing those stages and moments that seem typical and obvious, but pass too quickly, and are not so quickly recalled. It is not a money-maker and will draw no crowd aside from those that love us—but when we consider that important audience and media’s ability to gather and connect us, our commercial and professional impulses give way to much more personal motives. Creating a useful family archive also requires some investment of time and money (for solutions, see Family Video Journals: the Home Movie by Tom Russell). Some practice using the equipment and careful thought to content will go a long way in making your footage more valuable and agreeable, but even while those skills are being developed, your loved ones will appreciate the time spent and probably enjoy the result, because of the affection and interest they have in the subject matter. Remember, there is more real emotion and authenticity in 10 minutes of most family video than in most two hour fictional blockbusters.
It is an amazing gift to have special milestones in your family's life recorded for yourself and for future generations. It is even better, though, if you can get past the obligatory camera presence at first steps, elementary plays, birthdays and graduation ceremonies. It is important for the camera to be out during those not-so-special times, capturing commonplace routines and everyday interactions. Personality and relationships are more apparent, understated talents may be more recognizable, opportunities for change can be seen. There must be balance: we cannot put so much emphasis on documenting everything that we forget to live it, but it is not bad for the camera to be accepted and expected. Already your family will be authentic—they will be themselves because they are in their own environment, surrounded by the people and things they know. They are familiar with you and comfortable in the relationship, so you already have an edge on any professional that would try to capture them. But added depth and willingness to show every nuance of their personality can come with familiarity and comfort with the medium as well. This is valuable stuff. What is more unique and amazing than each of your close family members and friends? What is more important than understanding them and helping them understand themselves?
In ancient days Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living." Family video is now taking its place with photographs and journal-keeping as a way to document lives-our own lives, our family's collective life, and most importantly, the lives of our children. To know ourselves we must know about our past, and often we cannot remember the formative years of our childhood with any real accuracy or perspective. If these things exist, especially beyond the requisite milestone moments of birthdays and holidays, they provide invaluable insight to the newly cognizant adolescents or adults who are seeking to know and understand themselves. They can explore not only who they are, but also who they have been and how they have developed, and secure with this knowledge they can then turn more fully and fruitfully to the task of helping others in the same vital process of self-discovery.
Family cinema has come a long way since our grandparents' first attempts to record their lives, but the same elements are still present. We want to see what we have been, and what others have been. We are fascinated by the past because we can see how things have changed and developed. Pictures and journals are great sources, but video can supplement or round out these glimpses in vivid ways. We now have the resources: it is our responsibility, especially as parents and caretakers of a generation, to make use of them.