Digitizing the Lost Mormon Cinema, Part 1

Digitizing the Lost Mormon Cinema, Part 1

I've been involved with the "Hard-to-Find Mormon Videos" YouTube channel for a few months now. It's been a lot of fun. From what originally grew out of an attempt to put together get a group of easily-mocked videos á la Mystery Science Theater 3000 has grown a collection of hundreds of films over nearly an entire century of time. The channel get dozens of messages a week from current members, former members, and people who have never been officially associated with Mormonism who thank the channel for finding some old gem they'd nearly forgotten.

So far the videos have all come from a small handful of sources. The largest source is old VHS videocassettes.

Even most of the oldest videos were obtained through VHS tapes produced by the LDS Church using even older materials. It's relatively easy to digitize a videocassette with an old VCR and some specialized S-Video-to-USB hardware. And there are hundreds of old VHS tapes to be found. The majority of the tapes I've personally added to the YouTube channel have come from chapels in my own home stake (sort of a Mormon "diocese" for those unfamiliar with the lingo; a collection of local congregations or "wards"). A ward library often has a few drawers and cabinets that haven't been opened for years if not decades, and you can often find something in them that is interesting.

The other source has been eBay and people who have been generous enough to send me some of their own VHS tapes that they have had access to. Between these two sources (eBay and personal lending) I've been able to find a number of old videos that I had never even heard of before!

Recently I have begun to branch out from converting old VHS tapes, if only because I feel like I'm now scraping the bottom of that particular barrel. I'm sure there's many more tapes yet to find, but the time it will take to find them is just too long. If I am to feed my obsession, I need to turn to other sources of media.

Before the invention of the VCR in the late 1970s, the LDS Church used film, both 16mm projection film (featuring motion pictures) and 35mm filmstrips (single-frame presentations where an audio track would be synced up to the displayed frames with an audible beep).

I already have over a hundred filmstrips on the YouTube channel, but they had all been obtained from existing VHS transfers. However, scanning filmstrips has been my most recent challenge and I've been able to get a number of old presentation submitted to the channel.

The next adventure is 16mm motion picture film.

I have been able to gather six films so far. It's been a lot of fun fun. Here's the list:

  • Meet the Mormons (1973)
  • You Make the Difference (1973)
  • The Three Witnesses (1968)
  • Windows of Heaven (1979 Version)
  • Families are Forever (with Gordon Jump, 1982)
  • Windows of Heaven (1963 Original)

Digitizing these films could have been done with obtaining a projector and filming a projection, but the results would have been grainy and not very good. Besides, the last item I've listed, the original version of "Windows Of Heaven" is historically significant.

So I made a crowdfunding effort that helped me through public and anonymous assistance to fund the digitization of at least the three films that are not available in any other medium than 16mm film!

I decided to start the process due to the exciting feedback I got from the campaign with the original Windows of Heaven.

This is the largest reel of film I have, nearly 2000 feet long! It's also the oldest, as the film was released March 1963.

I have sent the reel off this very evening to a service in Georgia that will transfer it to digital files for me. I will then upload these files to YouTube, the Internet Archive, as well as making the raw files I receive from the service available by request from a simple website I will put together for this. The website will also go into the history of the film and the historical context of why it was made as well as into the historical issues of the story it presents that supposedly took place during the summer of 1899 (the truth being, as usual, more nuanced and less miraculous than the film presents).

So far the only costs incurred for the project have been the shipping to send the reel to the digitization company, for a total of $33.90. It was a bit pricey because I thought a 53-year-old reel of 2000 feet of rolled gelatin-coated plastic tape should be sent with "fragile" handling! This picture is actually the box I received the film in because I forgot to snap a picture at FedEx when shipping it out.

I will next update this blog post series with the results of the digitization as well as any additional information about the process I can get. I anticipate that the service will cost anywhere between $985 and as much as $1800, but we'll see how much it costs in the end.

To all who helped support (and who continue to support as the campaign is still open) you have my heartfelt appreciation! The next blog post should be up sometime next week.

Project Funding

Donations
Public and private as of 6 July 2016
 $3330.00
Expenses
Payment Services Fees
(Paypal, GoFundMe, etc)
-$114.87
Shipping to CinePost -$33.90
Current Funds
   $3181.23
Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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