In the summer of 2006 the late filmmaker Helen Hill started contacting members of the New Orleans filmmaking community asking them if they had any films they would like to show at a screening she was curating at the Zeigest Arts Center. The screening, a way of bringing the city’s filmmakers together again the year after Hurricane Katrina, was organized in conjunction with Home Movie Day, and was to be a showcase for either their own home movies or films for which they felt a special personal connection. George Ingmire, a New Orleans media producer contacted Hill, saying “the piece I plan to show is a home documentary [my grandfather] made about his son who was born with Down Syndrome. So far I have the 16mm print of the film and audio (now digitized) from a VHS version of the film.”
Ingmire’s grandfather, Dwight Core, Sr., was a photographer who grew up in a coal mining area in West Virginia and in addition to his namesake son, he raised four girls in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. Core was a dabbler in amateur filmmaking–in addition to his home movies, he left behind a short film called “Silkworms,” which did indeed document the silkworms in his backyard—and when he passed away in 1995, his collection of films ended up going to his grandson. While going through his grandfather’s films and tapes, Ingmire was struck by the reel of images of his uncle in the first fifteen years of his life and sensed that it was something special.
The video copy that Ingmire brought to the Zeitgeist that night combined the 16mm home movie reel that his grandfather had shot between 1960 and 1975, and a narration that he had recorded separately, based in part on the poem “Think of Me First as a Person” by Rita Dranginis, which begins:
You look at me with pity,
concern or indifference,
for I am a retarded child.
But you only see the outside of me.
If I could express myself,
I would tell you what I am inside.
The film documents, with great love and compassion, what it was like for the parent of a child living with developmental disabilities during the 1960s and 1970s. Dwight, Jr. was institutionalized, briefly, in the Lynchburg Training School, several hours away from the family’s home in Norfolk. This separation was clearly an agonizing one for the entire family, as heard in the filmmaker’s voiceover.
From the very first screening it was clear that the rediscovery of this lost film was a revelation and it was bound to become an important film in the canon of amateur filmmaking as well in the depictions of special needs children.
A second screening followed soon afterward at the conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, and then a third, where with unprecedented speed it was shown at the meeting of the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. Members of the board recommended the film to the Librarian of Congress, and in December 2006 it was announced that the film had been named to the National Film Registry.
Soon afterward the wheels were set in motion to begin preservation of the original 16mm reel along with the soundtrack that had been remastered by Ingmire. Dan Streible of NYU suggested the film to Haghefilm Preservation/Cineco in Amsterdam as a worthy candidate for a preservation screening at the 2008 Orphan Film Symposium and Haghefilm spared no expense in utilizing some of the most advanced digital preservation techniques at their disposal. The film offered some unique challenges for the lab because it was not only a home movie, but also a compilation of dozens of shots filmed with a variety of stocks over a decade and a half. As they describe on their website:
The 16mm film was scanned to 2K resolution with Oxberry wetscan. The scan data was timed and edited on the Nucoda Film Master according to George Ingmire’s EDL [edit decision list]. Several shots in the original 16mm film presented exposition and focus problems. Only some of the color shots displayed slight fading. There was only slight intervention on scratches, splices and stabilization problems in order to preserve the film’s original character. The sound was taken from the DVD (stereo sound), synchronized and then digitally restored (noise reduction).
The new 35mm print had its premiere at the Orphan Film Symposium in 2008. The accompanying digital video master was used for Ingmire’s self-published DVD, which is available for sale directly from him through the website www.thinkofmefirstasaperson.com. Both the original elements and the new preservation are held at the Center for Home Movies Collection at the Library of Congress.
According to a story about Dwight Core, Jr. in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, his hometown paper, following the naming of the film to the National Registry, he enjoyed his celebrity and appeared at public showings of the film. “He was signing autographs wherever he went,” Ingmire said. “He visited the graveside of his mother and father to announce that he was ‘on DVD.’ “
Sadly, Dwight Core, Jr. passed away in October 2008 at the age of 48.
This post was a special for For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon
The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.