Slide Show – Creating and Preserving Family History

Some months ago I wrote an article entitled “Home Movies” in which I reflected on the experience of watching home videos of my family taken over the past 20 years.  Not long ago I created a slide presentation and directed a video that I want to write about in honor of Thanksgiving Day.  My hope is that my experiences will have resonance for, and maybe even inspire, many readers when getting together with family today. 

Recently my family celebrated my mother’s 85th birthday.  I put together a slide show about Mom’s life, which I narrated.  Make no mistake, putting together a slide show is filmmaking.  It requires sifting through years of photographs and slides, discovering connections between seemingly unrelated images, finding stories and then editing everything together into a narrative that will keep the attention of 40 plus people, many of whom had traveled long distances to be there.

Fortunately Mom’s life has been well documented.  I began with a black and white photograph of Mom as a baby being held by her grandmother.  The slides came full circle at the end with a full color picture of Mom holding her own baby grand daughter. In between these two pictures were 70 others: Mom’s junior high school graduation portrait, wedding photos, Mom at work as a children’s librarian, my parents on their honeymoon and many other pictures.  There was lots of humor.  At one point I showed my parents’ wedding portrait and said that their marriage echoed with 54 years of marital bliss.  That picture was followed by a shot of them, taken years later, sitting side by side, my father fast asleep.

My brother hired a videographer to shoot the party.  I became the impromptu director.  I put the videographer in a bedroom, away from the noise of the party. I began wading through the crowd of guests, pulling different relatives into the quieter bedroom, one and two at a time, to interview them about Mom and their relationship with her.  I knew I was not going to get this group together too often and that time was limited.  I discovered that when you point a camera at someone it gives permission for a frankness that you do not get in ordinary conversation, particularly with relatives who you do not see very often   I knew that my mother was well loved, but was not prepared for the honesty, gratitude and remembrances that poured out of the 11 relatives and one friend that I managed to interview.  I missed a good chunk of the party doing this but believe me I had the best seat in the house and have the images and sounds to prove it.

Soon it was time for the toast and then my slide show.  I launched into my narrative, one hand holding the script, the other switching slides and keeping them in focus.  The images flew by.  Mom went from a baby to a grandmother in less than 10 minutes.  There were weddings, births, graduations, the back yard pool, trips and daily life.  Was it the definitive story of Mom’s life?  Probably not, nor were the video interviews, but through all the pictures and words moments of a life, one still unfolding, were captured.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 26, 2009, in Documentary. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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