In late July, Audrey and I traveled to Bucksport, Maine, to attend the Northeast Historic Film (NHF) Wunderkino 5 symposium. The theme for the annual event was “Images of War and Peace,” which aligns perfectly with the types of films preserved at the National Archives (NARA). We were delighted to see several presentations that highlighted NARA films.
The symposium kicked off with a service project during which we tested a portion of NHF’s collection of donated 16mm projectors. Although the first projector tested threatened to burst into flames, we accomplished a lot. At the end of four hours, participants had identified a number of working projectors, set aside those that needed repair or could be salvaged for parts, and collected and organized working projector bulbs and lamps.
The first presentation we encountered featuring NARA films came from Christine Gorby, a professor of architecture at The Pennsylvania State University. Her presentation “Preserved Food, Identity, and Experience in Post-WWI” was built around an analysis of how material culture and space were used in American Home Canning in France (1919) to shape cultural food practices during French postwar reconstruction. Gorby has done extensive research on films of the United States Department of Agriculture. Other NARA films referenced in her presentation include Cured by Canning and How to Eat Cottage Cheese.
The subsequent presentations also touched on films preserved at NARA. Timothy Wisniewski of the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives at Johns Hopkins University used an Army Film Bulletin titled The General Hospital to introduce his presentation on films shot by physicians stationed at Army general hospitals during World War II. Devin Orgeron, film studies professor at North Carolina State University, gave a presentation titled “P is for Patriot: The Manufacturing of Americans from WWII-Vietnam” and showed a film from NARA’s United States Information Agency record group titled 200, which was made by animator Vincent Collins as part of the USIA’s Young Filmmaker Bicentennial Grant program. Sharon Thompson, founder of the Lesbian Home Movie Project, presented on lost WWII women directors and showed Elizabeth Wheeler’s 1943 film It’s Up to You!, available here on the NARA YouTube channel:
Fred Pond, Reference and Instruction Librarian at the University of Vermont’s Bailey/Howe Library, spoke about the local WWII home front as captured in different types of films, such as an amateur film showing the activities of the Vermont State Guard. Pond was working with films held at the Vermont Historical Society, but two of the titles also have a home at NARA. A Town Solves a Problem and Dorothy Thompson’s 1941 Farm Work is War Work both featured Vermont communities as their setting. The first demonstrates democracy in action through the small-town meeting process and the second promoted a program for young people who wanted to support the war effort by providing labor assistance to farmers.
NHF’s Wunderkino 5 demonstrated how researchers from diverse backgrounds draw on the motion picture holdings of the National Archives in their work. We take pride in our work preserving these films and making them accessible, and always appreciate seeing the research and productions that they inform.