Film Reels and Video Tapes

April 12th, 2024

From 2022 to 2023, I worked on a massive digitization project involving our audio reels. After completion, I moved onto our next priority for preservation, film reels and video tapes. So far I’ve discovered about 30 8mm and 16mm film reels in our collection which were sent out on a new digitization project. The Museum of Obsolete Media rates the stability of these types of film at a level 5, very high risk, for 16mm and a moderate risk for 8mm.

Image of 16mm film

A 16mm film on a 15 inch reel from our collection, created during the 1976 Bicentennial.

Both 8mm and 16mm are prone to a breakdown of the acetate material the films are made out of, mold, and physical damage. It’s pretty easy to tell when the acetate starts to break down because the film will start smelling like vinegar. Several of our 16mm smelled so strongly of vinegar that I had to wear two masks while handling them. Once this process starts, there is no reversing it, so it became clear my preservation priorities were right on track.

Much like the audio reels, the films were digitized and rehoused. I sent them out just before the holidays and received them back in March with the digital files. I’ve been viewing each file to see what the contents are, and it struck me how similar they are to today’s photos and videos. Small snippets of the lives of Genevans, opening Christmas presents, filming family gatherings or work outings. Even the famous soap in the Pulteney Park fountain prank.

Additionally, we invested in a simple VHS tape converter so I could start digitizing our VHS collection in house. And yes, we (luckily) still have a VHS player!

This has been fun because many of our tapes were made by our present and former staff members showing the exhibit creation process, lectures, and other events. Some of them include promotional material for a Finger Lakes television station and give us a look at how our historic buildings were set up in the past.

Black and white screenshot of Victory Golf

A screenshot from a film by Tony Alvaro showing the Victory Golf sign in the background.

One of the VHS tapes had footage from a film reel used in our World War II exhibit in the 1990s. The film was created by barber Tony Alvaro who had his barber shop on Main Street and was capturing the many service members who came past his shop in that time. In the footage, I found the mini golf course that I’ve written about before in the background of several shots. The sign in front of the course was Victory Golf, meaning the name was changed from Main Street Miniature Golf Course!

I’ve started adding short reels to our Instagram, so be sure to follow us over there.

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One response to “Film Reels and Video Tapes”

  1. Inga-Mai (Pim) Larsson-Kovach says:

    It is wonderful that it all was saved and digitized and that the outcome of the pictures is good.
    Thank you, Becky

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