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A Brief History of Amateur Film

The Early Years

We can chart the history of amateur film, and the birth of what we’d call ‘Home Movies’ back to the development of the 9.5mm and 16mm film formats in the early 1920s.

Although film had been around for about three decades by this time it had been a largely inaccessible pursuit for the amateur due to the equipment available. Professional movies were shot on 35mm film which was a problem as, not only did it require heavy and expensive equipment, it was also highly flammable which meant that those who handled it, cinema projectionists for example, needed to be pretty specialised in their training.

The introduction of new formats was still an expensive and highly technical process but its general sale to the public did open the doorway for committed amateurs to get filming.

However it was in 1932 with release of the Kodak made 8mm film that brought filmmaking into the public arena.

Super 8

8mm film revolutionised amateur filmmaking as it both reduced the expense but also the amount of cumbersome equipment required. Although launched during the Great Depression the equipment would grow in popularity, particularly following the launch of a Standard 8 Colour film.

Following the end of the 2nd World War and a move to more economically stable 1950s a handheld 8mm home camera became one of the fashionable gadgets of the suburban middle-class.

When in 1965, Kodak released the ‘Super 8’ – which introduced cartridge loading cameras as opposed to film threading, the ease (and indeed quality) of home filmmaking had never been greater.

Through this mid-part of the century, amateur filmmaking would have its own part to play in the chronicling of the age. Not only would it be the Launchpad for the careers of some of the great post-war film directors (Steven Spielberg for example) but also some of the most iconic footage of its time would come from the lens of amateur filmmakers – most notably perhaps with the Zapruder footage of the JFK assassination in 1963.

The Video Era

It was in the 1970s that a new era of amateur film emerged in the form of home video (VHS and the doomed Betamax).

Relatively cheap and simple to use cassette-styled recording equipment came onto the market that could be played back onto a TV rather than a projector and screen.

By the end of the 1980s home movies would have prominence in popular culture, even giving rise to its own place on TV with programmes such as ‘You’ve Been Framed’.

Going Digital

By the end of the century and with the birth of the internet, amateur film was making the transition into digital formats. Major brands such as Sony and Panasonic launched digital camcorders which could burn video directly onto a DVD or a file on your computer.

Today, amateur film sits alongside its professional counterpart. With the rise of social media and, in particular YouTube along with the mass accessibility of high-tech equipment on our smartphones and tablets amateur filmmaking has never been easier and nor more widespread.