Best Film Buffs (2006)

Barron Sherer and Kevin Wynn

Barron Sherer and Kevin Wynn can typically be found in a dark room, leaning toward a flickering screen and intently watching moving images of the past. They are cocurators of Cinema Vortex, a nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting and screening Florida's old movies. At The Wolfsonian-FIU they run the Public Domain Playhouse series, which uses old advertisements, news reels, home videos, and propaganda flicks to illustrate provocative points. The two men spend a great deal of time in the Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archive in the dungeonlike basement of the main branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library. The temperature-controlled space is filled with dusty reels, black wax platters, and elaborate screening machines. There's also footage from closed-down companies, home movies, and fragile, magnetic-tape memories. Their dedication to preserving the past is admirable, to say the least. "What we find goes back to this old-timey thing when film had to be physically driven through a projector. There's a certain evocation of a simpler -- quote, unquote -- happier time. Which of course, wasn't that happy," Wynn laughs. The stash in the library's basement reveals a time before reality television and music videos, an era when people didn't know how to act in front of a camera. Sherer and Wynn get to see the past that has been whitewashed from the selective American memory, when people of color were seen onscreen only in a domestic capacity. Back in those days, films circulated without restraint. They were screened in classrooms, conference rooms, or clubs, and then they were discarded and forgotten. Old reels capturing important moments in history would turn up in someone's basement or attic. The treasure hunt for films has just about ended, Wynn laments. We are living in litigious times, and companies nowadays would rather lock up their employee training videos and commercials in a vault than let them fly free, to be readapted, cut, and edited into art. "Twenty years from now, the pool of film video that is in the public domain is quite likely to be the same pool we have now, because material produced more recently just isn't going to show up," Wynn warns. Together these two provide an opportunity to look into the past, using celluloid recollections to reveal contemporary truths.


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