Yale Film Archive seeks alumni home movies

  • Desert scene showing horizon with wooden sign reading "Rio Grande" and a blue 1950s Chevrolet with open door and a man in short sleeve shirt with back to camera looking out at scene from back of the car.
    Home movie still from Berger collection
  • Two Marine jets in flight, with two long refueling cables from one extending to the smaller jet flying alongside
    Home movie still from Hanke collection
  • Black and white photo of little girl with curly hair, wide-eyed, blowing into a harmonica that she holds with both hands
    Home movie still from Childs collection
  • Aircraft on ground, with large white star in blue circle on side, with both hatches swung open and two pilots inside. A ground technician wearing goggles is talking to the pilot in the rear cockpit.
    Home movie still from Hanke collection
  • Woman wearing orange coat with salt and pepper brown curls on top of her head looks at camera smiling. She also wears orange lipstick. Behind her is a body of water and a row of blurred buildings. Next to her is a partial view of a woman with short dark hair, wire glasses, wearing fur collar. Only her left side of face is visible.
    Home movie still from Berger collection
  • Photo of champagne bottle wrapped in towel being poured into glass. Superimposed on the image are colorful neon signs that read "Use Bromo Seltzer for Headaches" and "Hygrade all beef frankfurters, ready to serve."
    Home movie still from Childs collection
October 14, 2022

The Yale Film Archive at Sterling Memorial Library is a repository of more than 7,000 feature and documentary films on 16mm and 35mm, in addition to DVD and Blu-ray versions of more than 50,000 films, ranging from early silent classics to twenty-first-century Hollywood blockbusters. But the archive is also home to hundreds of reels of home movies made by university alumni—and Managing Archivist Brian Meacham would like to acquire more. He is extending an open invitation to Yale alumni to donate their own home productions to the collection.

“Home movies are unique by definition,” Meacham explains. “They capture so much. They are time capsules of fashion, culture, architecture, humor. They are certainly significant for those who produce them but they also have a different type of significance for cultural historians and film historians.”

Among the many home movies now in the collection are films made by three prominent Yale alumni: Robert Hanke ’60, Spencer M. Berger ’40, and S. W. Childs Jr. ’27.

Robert Hanke 60

G. F. Robert Hanke is a retired Marine Corps colonel. He was a fighter pilot on more than 50 missions during the Cuban Missile Crisis and later flew more than 150 combat missions during the Vietnam War as a fighter/attack pilot. He was Top Gun of the 2nd Marine Air Wing and a test pilot for Projects Gemini and Apollo, NASA’s manned spaceflight programs. Hanke has donated to the Film Archive 21 reels of 8mm and Super 8mm film, shot between 1963 and 1974, much of which features aviation. Among other things, including some family footage, Hanke filmed F-4 Phantom fighter jets taking off and landing on airstrips and on aircraft carriers. He even shot scenes while in the air, including some reels documenting mid-air fueling operations, taken from a jet flying alongside the refueling planes—and, in one case, from inside the cockpit of his own jet as it engaged with the tanker’s refueling boom. Hanke, later a lawyer, wrote and produced independent films with his wife, Lynn Hanke, chair of the Yale Library Associates and a member of the University Library Council. One of their films, Orlando, based on Virginia Woolf’s eponymous novel, received two Academy Award nominations in 1994.

Spencer M. Berger 40

Spencer Merriam Berger—business executive, film historian, and artist—was instrumental in the establishment of the Yale Film Study Center (now the Yale Film Archive). In 1968, he and others facilitated the purchase of the John Griggs Collection of Classic Films, Yale’s first film acquisition.

During the 1980s, Berger, a film collector and historian of the Barrymore family of actors, grew the collection with his donation of 16mm prints of foreign and Hollywood films. In 2018, the Film Archive acquired from Berger’s son, Eric Hoadley Berger ’66, a collection of amateur films and home movies that document family events: trips to Europe, summers on the beaches of Connecticut, a trip to Disneyland in 1957, and the construction of their new home in Guilford in 1969. The Berger Collection contains 65 reels, dating from 1924 to 1964.

S. W. Childs Jr. 27

Starling Winston “Winkie” Childs Jr. was, Meacham explains, a “real pioneer,” an early adopter of home-movie-making technology. With the introduction of 16mm film in 1923, ordinary people for the first time were able to create their own films. The earliest film in Childs’s collection was made just two years later, in 1925. With his friends in Norfolk, Connecticut, Childs founded a cinema troupe he called the Purity Players. They produced several short narrative films, complete with costumes and intertitles, shot in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations. Other films in the collection document personal occasions, including his wedding and honeymoon, international travel, and sporting events. Although Childs was not a professional filmmaker, he was an award-winning amateur, and his name often appeared in film publications. Childs’s daughter-in-law Hope Childs contributed to the Film Archive more than 400 reels of Childs’s 16mm amateur films and home movies, in both black-and-white and color, some silent and some with sound, dating from 1925
to 1961.

Currently, the Film Archive is interested in home movies shot on film, including 8mm, Super 8mm, and 16mm. Videotapes and digital files are not being solicited at this time. Donors will be provided high-quality digital transfers of their films, which—upon approval of the donor—would also be available to researchers on site at Yale Library. Alumni who would like to contribute their home movies to the Film Archive should contact Brian Meacham.

—Deborah Cannarella