Paolo Boccagni and Alberto Brodesco will give a presentation at the online symposium “Creative homemaking: visualising home in times of crisis” convened by Dr. Maria Photiou at the University of Derby on 23 March. Their presentation will be on ‘(Re)producing home in “home movies”: A comparative exploration across stories of family and migration’

See the abstract below.

What does “home” mean, and what functions does it have, in “home movies”? How is it represented in this film genre, and how does it interlace with family stories and histories? In order to address these questions, we select and analyze a few documentary films belonging to the sub-genre of “found footage films”. Film-makers who are also members of the family look at the visual documentation left by their parents or grand-parents, such as small gauge films (16mm, 8mm, Super8…) found in the basement or the attic of their family homes. Titles such as Ima (Caterina Klusemann, 2001), I for India (Sandhya Suri, 2005), 51 Birch Street (Doug Block, 2006) and Radiography of a family (Firouzeh Khosrovani, 2020) show, in different geographical contexts (Italy, England, USA, Iran), the new generations’ efforts to deal with family roots and investigate often controversial family histories. All the films tell stories of migration, diaspora, or extended mobility. All of them articulate different ways of transmitting, inheriting and renegotiating home, along with the memories and the materialities associated with it. The directors (three of whom are female) show how inextricable are the ties between faces and places. In essence, the autobiography of a family is also the biography of a home.

If home movies are an invaluable source to understand daily life and social habits (Zimmerman, 1995), the memorial and linguistic operations made in the films we consider lead us to a deeper level. These film-makers take a reflexive approach to their family archives, inquiring both what is shown and what remains un-shown. In Peircean terms, the visibility of the domestic space acts as an index, i.e. a precise testimony of the past of the family, but also as a symbol to be decoded: something that stands for the professional success of a family or the final fulfillment of an individual life. Most notably, in I for India the image of the English house is sent to India to show to the migrants’ parents how well the family settled; in Ima the Tuscany house where the grand-mother lives stands for the rest she can finally have, as a Jewish woman who fled Poland during World War II; in Radiography of a family the luxury house where, in the present, the mother lives assumes a connotation of void, as if it was unable to host all the incoherent memories of the past; 51 Birch Street concludes with a house moving, as a process that is necessary to leave back the past of the family. As the preliminary remarks show, there is a promise in comparing both the views of home and the ways to circulate its images, over time and space, across these movies.

Furthermore, these found footage films are characterized by a particular reflexive character: the directors “gaze on another gaze”, watching and pondering the amateur films produced by their ancestors. The close reading of these audiovisual texts will allow us to capture and systematize different nuances of the subjectivity, emotions and memories that are implied in the representation of the domestic space. How the sensuous, emotional and material memories of home are reproduced across generations, and what difference the medium makes to their transmission, are the questions to be discussed at last.