AMATEUR FILMMAKING

AMATEUR FILMMAKING

Amateur filmmaking or Film is difficult to define and the existing definitions of this phenomenon are vague and ambiguous. “Words and phrases like substandard film, family film, home movie, hobby film, private film, in edits and even ego document are occasionally assigned a meaning, but more often than not they are used interchangeably. The resulting confusion has specific negative consequences for the study of amateur film and, by extension, for the usefulness of amateur film as a historical source. Thus, a clearer, more sophisticated definition of amateur film is necessary – not only for the study of amateur film and its usefulness as a historical source. Rather, audiovisual archives require such a definition, too. As keepers of the moving image, their interest in amateur film has increased in recent years.

An amateur is someone who engages in an activity as a pastime rather than a profession. An amateur photographer does not generate (or try to generate) revenue from the use of photography. History: In terms of the history of organisations, Burgess is much more sure of herself. She writes that the ‘ first amateur film convention was held in Torquay, in 1928, under the auspices of the Devon Amateur Film Production.’ Three years later, this was followed by the “The Era” Challenge Cup Contest, which was significant, not only because Burgess herself initiated it, but also ‘ for the first time the amateur cine movement in Great Britain knew organised professional co-operation.’ This contest was held in The Gaumont Film House in Wardour Street, London, and the judging panel included prominent industry figures such as Michael Balcon, Anthony Asquith and Ben Carlton, ‘one of the best known pioneers of the amateur cine movement.’ However, this history is very London-centric, a perspective perhaps justifiable within the commercial film industry, but extremely limited in terms of amateur cinema.

Amateur films map the private sphere from the point of view of the participants, collapsing the borders between subject and object. These films trace the melodrama of personal life and the idealized projections of family. They graph the contradictions between the realities of family life bounded by class, race, and gender expectations and the fantasies of the nuclear family, and they also reveal the nation’s unfinished production of obedient subjects and histories.

Limitations and Possibilities:

1. The Domestic and the Non-Professional

The first perspective identifies amateur cinema with the ethnography of domestic family life.

2. Amateurism as an Oppositional Practice

The critical position that tends to be the one adopted most frequently by writers on amateur cinema is that of the mode as oppositional practice. This is perhaps understandable, given that amateur film seems to offer the opportunity to experiment and subvert from outside the commercial mainstream. From this perspective, amateur film poses a direct challenge to the conformity of mass movie making, and ‘democratises’ the means of cultural production. Low-budget film production has always been seen as the privileged site where artistry can potentially flourish. From the European art cinema to the B-movies of the Hollywood studio system, critics have often noted that when working outside the heavily regulated production line, stylistic experiments can be pursued without interference. Here Deren is acting as an advocate of a non-industrial mode of production, with the amateur as the true patron of artistry in the cinema.

In its commitment to an aesthetic of silent filmmaking, also demonstrates the archaic quality of writing on amateur film during the 1960s. While the professional cinema had integrated sound into its symbolic system, amateur filmmaking was still being seen as a potential site of resistance: preserving a visual style for the amateur, that had long since been superseded by sound technology in other cinemas. The mainstream’s innovations leave a space for the amateur to exploit. Here amateurism is synonymous with artistry. The New York avant-garde embraced the new cheap cameras and projectors that came on the market. In these mass-produced technologies the artistic avant-garde invested their utopian hopes and desires for a future filmmaking practice: one that broke with the practices of the past (Sitney 1971). In particular they championed the lightweight technology of 16mm, and more especially by 1965 (when the article ‘Amateur Versus Professional’ was published) the 8mm cameras that were becoming readily available to many middle-class families in the United States.

The movement of the camera during filming was a site of controversy in amateur circles. While most amateurs were advised not to draw attention to the camera by excessive movement or unusual camera angles, here Deren advises the very opposite. She encourages the amateur to make full use of the lightweight camera and to forge an aesthetic practice that the professional would disapprove of. Anthropomorphic camera movement here becomes the signature technique of a filmic practice that is defining itself in opposition to the smooth and controlled locomotion of professional film style. This points towards a dichotomy that has been influential on much later writing on amateur film. The title of the article is ‘Amateur Versus Professional’, which in itself is revealing of an antagonistic attitude. This theoretical opposition has been unproductive in the long run, as is evident from the ways in which these debates have developed as they entered Film Studies.

The first scholarly monograph on amateur film was Patricia Zimmermann’s Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (1995). This book was based on her PhD thesis, which was entitled Reel Families: A Social History of the Discourse on Amateur Film 1897- 1962. Despite the differences between approaches to amateur film from domestic and oppositional perspectives, what they have in common is a recognition that both home movies and the amateur avant-garde are significantly individualist practices.

Television and Historical Evidence

More energy and vitality exists within the on-going debates on amateur film within the archive sector, where curators and restorers have taken the responsibility of pushing the debate forward, in the relative absence of significant academic developments. While not being as prominent in the study of amateur film as the previous variant, their mainly evidential perspective nonetheless plays a significant role in non-academic uses of amateur film. However, these archival concerns have recently entered academic debate via the study of television. Nonetheless, this debate has tended to proceed along predictable lines of enquiry, with some notable exceptions.