My Father’s Camera
2001 | National Film Board of Canada
Equipped with her dad’s old Super 8 and a sharp eye for a great clip, Karen Shopsowitz weaves the history of home movies together with footage shot by her father—amateur filmmaker Israel Shopsowitz. Within his treasure trove of domestic films from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s and her own extensive research Shopsowitz discovers vastly under-explored cultural terrain. In its delightful overview of early motion pictures, My Father’s Camera includes clips from the Lumiere Brothers’ film of an 1895 ostrich parade in downtown Paris, early performances by Groucho Marx, and a 1915-16 version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Other vintage highlights record World War II troops training on the beach in Atlantic City and 1940s Times Square with its dazzling flashing lights reporting news of the Nuremberg trials. But as My Father’s Camera demonstrates, it’s often the contextual surprises of the background that prove most valuable. Here, in addition to the labor of Israel Shopsowitz’s love, the film’s inspiration is the idea of history making its way into the frame. My Father’s Camera illustrates that amateur filmmakers, with their accidental relationship with history, present a more detailed view of the world. Shopsowitz suggests that home movies may be more reliable than the newsreels or documentaries of the day. In one street scene, for example, members of the Ku Klux Klan walk proudly in full regalia while a black man dances nearby to earn pennies. But Shopsowitz also slyly undercuts the idea of the historical purity of home movies by including a family anecdote. Film of her older sister’s grand bat mitzvah party accidentally left out young Karen. When the omission was discovered, her father, “fearing permanent damage,” had everyone dress in party clothes and re-shot the scene. With Executive Producer Louis Lore, Producer Silva Basmajian, and Co-Writer Bill Cameron, Karen Shopsowitz produced and directed a marvelous blend of personal and social history. For skillfully weaving her father’s cinematic legacy into a richly textured and entertaining account of the home movie, a Peabody goes to Karen Shopsowitz’s My Father’s Camera.