Of national ‘Significance’: Politicizing the home movies of the US National Film Registry | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 11, Issue 2-3
  • ISSN: 1474-2756
  • E-ISSN: 2040-0578



Amongst archived collections of motion picture materials, home movies occupy an enigmatic position. The National Film Registry of the United States is a high-profile collection that includes home movies and, in the act of collecting, radically reframes the perceived cultural value and politics of the films. Established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, the National Film Registry aims to collect films that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ and preserve them in service of maintaining a US film heritage. Yet do the home movies selected represent a ‘significantly’ national symbol? This article examines the private and public trajectories of the home movies selected for the Registry, arguing that the films are selected with the primary goal of mobilizing particular political narratives according to the ideologies and biases of the National Film Preservation Board and Librarian of Congress. Furthermore, this article examines the ramifications of such political selections on the shaping of a US national film heritage. These issues are discussed through three key analyses: (1) an examination of the politics of collecting and canonization with respect to the goals and operations of the Registry as evidenced through publications and accounts of key figures involved in the selection of the home movies; (2) tracings of the trajectories of the individual home movies as they developed from private films into pieces of public history; and (3) a consideration of how the selection of these home movies more broadly affects the construction and consumption of a US national film heritage.


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