In 1974, as part of the Family Folklore Program of the Festival of American Folklife, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., put out a call for families to bring in their home movies and have portions of them copied for a documentary film. More than 100 families responded to the call, bringing in 16 mm and 8mm home movies, as well as photo albums. The result was the documentary, Home Movie: An American Folk Art by Ernst Star, then a student in the film department at Temple University, and Steve Zeitlin, a student in the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania.
The film was shown first inside a tent at the Smithsonian's festival in 1975 and 1976. Viewing the many hundreds of reels brought in for the project, the filmmakers began to see that, just as certain categories of stories recur from family to family, certain kinds of images recur in home movie archives. Scenes of holiday celebrations, birthdays, picnics, and vacations dominate these collections, and children, from infancy through high school graduation, at the mercy of their parents, are favorite subjects for the home photographer. In the accompanying book, "A Celebration of American Family Folklore" (Yellow Moon Press, 1982), Amy Kotkin notes that family celebrations, prime moments for picture-taking, are now so influenced by the presence of the camera that the act of photography has itself become a holiday tradition ... Families use the image-freezing magic of the camera to isolate, record, and confer importance on certain events in their lives."