Cinema and Media Studies professor Jacqueline Stewart, AM’93, PhD’99, is the chief artistic and programming officer for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. But this is not the only film-related project that is keeping her busy.

As founder and director of the South Side Home Movie Project, how would you compare exploring amateur vs. professional film history?

What unites them for me is a concern about preservation. With the South Side Home Movie Project, we are preserving and digitizing films that otherwise people would throw away. People don’t necessarily even know when they come across the films in their basements and attics what they are. They don’t have projectors anymore. These kinds of films have details and moments that are not captured in any other medium. The very act of preserving them and showing that we care about them gets a wider range of people to hold onto their home movies and opens up a space for them in “film history” writ large.

You’re the host of Turner Classic Movies’ Silent Sunday Nights. What interests you about silent film?

One of the things that’s so interesting to me is that because the films are silent, there was a lot of flexibility in the ways that local exhibitors would approach the accompaniment. What I learned in the research I did for my dissertation and my book Migrating to the Movies [University of California Press, 2005], looking at silent film exhibition on the South Side of Chicago along the Stroll in the “Black Belt”—South State Street—is that in Black communities, jazz musicians were performing accompaniment to those films. And exhibitors had a lot of flexibility to tailor aspects of the presentation to the specific tastes and interests of their local audiences. The coming of sound obviously is something that we look at as a technological innovation, but it was also a kind of standardization that limited the kinds of tailored racially, ethnically, culturally specific ways that people could consume films.

Silent film history reminds us that film was not always a standardized mass media form that was being received in the same way. You can even look at some of the core classics across film history and see that Black audiences, Latinx audiences, women audiences, youth audiences were reading them in different ways. And the combination of films varied. In the heyday of classic Hollywood cinema, people would see a cartoon and a newsreel and a B movie and the feature, shown in loops. I’m really interested in those aspects of film history that get us to see all these permutations and variations at the points of reception, instead of just looking at it as a medium that was only speaking from the top down.

Photo Creds: 
Photo courtesy Turner Classic Movies