Uncovering Texas History, One Reel At A Time

Apr 16, 2018

From Texas Standard.

Many of us have a cabinet or a closet at home with a stack of homemade VHS tapes – or those little tapes that went into newer-model camcorders – or maybe even Super 8s on little plastic reels. What’s on them may be personally worth keeping. But in the age of Blu-ray and digital files, will you ever watch them again?

The Texas Archive of the Moving Image is a non-profit group marking 10 years of traveling the state to preserve all kinds of films and videos, whether they’re home movies or industrial or educational films. The only catch is that films they preserve must have something to do with Texas. They’ll digitize it and give you a copy, and they’ll also keep a copy for the archive.

Archive Founder and Executive Director Caroline Frick says her group wants to “write a different history of the state.”

As told in books, history is often about great men – they’re usually men – politics and wars. Frick says she wants to uncover history “one reel of 8 millimeter at a time.”

“You never know what you’ll uncover in those closets,” Frick says. “Granted, a lot of birthday parties. A lot of Christmas trees, presents. But then again, somebody walks in in Amarillo with a reel that just says ‘Selma.’ and it turns out it’s footage of the [civil rights] protests.”

Frick says an Amarillo tractor salesman happened to be in Selma, Alabama during the protests in 1965 that culminated in “Bloody Sunday.” Frick says the footage tells a very different story than do documentaries and other histories of the event.

Like YouTube, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image offers media as it exists, without narration. Also, like YouTube, it’s a place viewers can get lost, making connections between one film and the next. But Frick says there’s a difference. “It’s a curated YouTube of Texas…. Out of the thousands and thousands of terabytes of data that we have, only a portion goes online because we have to be able to figure out the context.”

Frick says one of the most important tasks the Archive performs is connecting images with the people and events depicted. Videos and social media posts often include a call to viewers to identify people they may know.

Asked to call out a favorite video, Frick mentions a 1996 open-call audition for the movie made about pop star, Selena. “The role eventually want to Jennifer Lopez,” Frick says “However, we talk a lot in film history about the competition for who was going to play Scarlett [in “Gone with the Wind.] For me, Selena was more important.”

Written by Shelly Brisbin.