Raleigh man shares passion for old films
Updated: 08/09/2012 10:27 AM
By: Richard Green
Skip Elsheimer will never run out of films to watch from his own private collection. All he has to do is load up his 16-millimeter projector, sit back and relax.
He can enjoy a 1930 silent film shot in the Pisgah National Forest that is probably the oldest that he owns.
"It's an educational film on regulated deer hunting," said Elsheimer.
There’s an anxiety-inducing film produced by Brigham Young University in which a boy steps off a bus, collapses in the snow and dies, all because he wasn’t loved.
"An entire generation of kids saw that film and they weren't supposed to,” said Elsheimer.
Some of Elsheimer's films are incomplete, such as “Day Without Numbers” in which a puppet comes to life and shows a boy who hates math what life would be like without numbers.
“I don't know if he ever gets numbers back and so I really want to find that film,” said Elsheimer.
Then there is “Telezonia,” an educational piece teaching children how to use a rotary-dial phone.
"And that is so remarkably different than the phone experience now, that it's, I think it's interesting to kind of remember that,” said Elsheimer.
Those are just four of the more than twenty-four thousand films he owns. Most of them are from the 1970s and 80s, and they are stored in his Raleigh home as well as in a number of storage facilities.
Many would say those films are obsolete, presenting tired messages through out-dated technology.
Elsheimer would disagree.
“The ultimate goal is to remember what our past was like,” he said.
About twenty years ago, Elsheimer bought 500 films at an auction for $50.
Since then, he has averaged getting three new films a day, and has put together one of the top five private collections in the world.
“I think culturally it's very valuable, and I think that there's a value that people have in watching the films,” said Elsheimer.
Even he hasn’t seen all of the films inside each of these canisters.
"I've probably seen 5000 out of 24,000,” said Elsheimer.
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His goal though is to open up access to the films.
Elsheimer is in the process of trying to raise $30,000 to digitize a thousand of them.
“It's gonna to be 245 hours worth of material, and we've been saying, it's gonna be 100 miles of film,” he said.
If successful, those films would be available on the internet for all to see.