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Lake, Ellen

Ellen Lake
US videomaker


participant in
VideoChannel Cologne – Found Footage!

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cell phone video & 16 mm film, 2008, 1 min.

Synopsis: Scenes from a Bay Area bar and restaurant are juxtaposed with a holiday egg nog party in Chicago 70 years ago. The outfits, drink of choice, and technology may have changed, but the gestures are timeless.

Downtown is part of a project Call + Response, a series of shorts combining 16 mm home movies from the 1930s and 1940s with cell phone and digital video today. This project explores ideas about time, technology, history, and memory.

The source material for this project is 16 mm home movies I discovered in my grandmother’s closet. The films smelled like vinegar and were beginning to decay. I digitized 21 reels and draw from this collection for this project. Created with no thought of an audience beyond the living room, these films maintain their sense of intimacy and offer evocative images of life seventy years ago. Contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie, these films are carefully shot often with lush, vibrant color.

Over half of all films made before 1950 have deteriorated, been discarded or destroyed. Thinking about the rapid evolution in technology, how often something is lost to make way for something new, this project juxtaposes the past and present to investigate ideas about personal diary, collective memory, nostalgia, preservation, and the place where private and public experiences converge. With the ever-widening range of technological media available today, this project mixes old and new media to explore ideas about time, place, technology, and history.