Filmmaker Courtney Stephens presents a selection of 16mm “home travelogues”: amateur films shot by Americans abroad in the 1920s-40s, with a focus on footage by women. These films, intended to be screened for the friends and family of their makers, occupy a space between home movie and accidental ethnography, and reveal the Western gaze at a time of transition. They present a new type of traveler, no longer a (generally male) seeker of conquests or literary renown. The new traveler might be a divorcee on a tour of biblical gardens or a widow on a chartered cruise to the North Pole.
Through these early female filmmaker’s eyes, we get a glimpse of a newly mobile type of woman, conveying her point of view by how and where she looks; and by looking through others back at herself. These optical autobiographies are as gorgeous as they are challenging, raising questions not only about the travelers’ gaze and the politics of images at a distance; as they represent some of the earliest images of foreign lands to enter the American living room.
This program will feature selected footage from the Harvard Film Archive, University of Pennsylvania’s Film Archive, and The Academy Film Archive, along with commentary and short readings. The presentation will be followed by discussion with Courtney Stephens and Curator Mathilde Walker-Billaud.