Today my film class got the chance to go behind-the-scenes at the Harvard Film Archive. We've been working with 16mm film for a semester now, so we're pretty familiar with film and projectors already, but it was still exciting to see a professional projectionist at work as he threaded 35mm film for a screening. Naturally I obnoxiously photographed the process to show my roommates later. Check out the brief photo essay below!
Step one involves connecting the head of the film to an empty reel, which takes up the film as it moves through the projector and plays on the screen.
The film is guided through the projector by rotating gears that latch onto its sprockets (the punched out holes at both ends) and pull it forward. As it plays, the film is transferred from its original wound reel to the new reel.
As the film travels through the projector, a strong light facing the screen at the front of the theater shines through one frame at a time (typically 24 frames per second), projecting a moving picture for people (me) to enjoy! It also produces a consistent loud sound that somehow combines rattling with humming in a very comforting way.
And there we have it! The start of our film.
To break up our four hour long class, we watched a hilarious documentary called American Movie, directed by Chris Smith in 1999. It's a film about the making of a film, which is quite meta, but takes place in rural Wisconsin's junkyards and woods—as opposed to Hollywood's glitz and glam—and documents one broke yet indefatigable man's pursuit of his American Dream. Despite internal and external obstacles, he gets by with a little help from his friends (and family).
After some brief Internet research (thank you, Wikipedia), it turns out that American Movie was received very well and actually won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury prize for Documentary! Plus the New York Times later named it as one of the "1,000 Greatest Movies Ever Made," for what that's worth. Not sure about their rating system.
Regardless, critical acclaim means validation and even more reason to watch the film and make up your own mind about it! Viewing it digitally at home might not be the same as seeing it with the texture and character of film, but it'll still have all the laughs. And, of course, you'll be able to tell people about that Indie film you watched this weekend (and, if they stick around, how to thread film through a projector).