A classic summer afternoon in 1939 for a couple on a lake in Maine. The Price family ran the Flying Moose Lodge, a boy’s summer camp in East Orland, for many years. Harrie B. Price Collection/Northeast Historic Film

Sian Evans wanted to convey a sense of what life in Maine was like during the first half of the 20th century.

She found a rich vein of material in home movies that Mainers and visitors shot from 1916 to the early 1960s.

The result, “Maine’s Home Movies,” will air at 9 p.m. Thursday on Maine Public Television, again at 2 p.m. Saturday and, Evans hopes, at screenings around the state as Mainers look inward and back during the state’s bicentennial year.

An entire community came out for a winter party on pond ice one day in 1935 – skating, hockey, tug-o-war, snowshoe racing and toasting marshmallows over a fire in Lucerne. Talbot and Barbara Hackett Collection/Northeast Historic Film

Evans culled the material from home movies donated to Northeast Historic Film, a preservation society in Bucksport. Evans, a documentary filmmaker, sits on the organization’s board.

Most of the movies were shot by everyday people, and capture family reunions and events such as a community winter festival in Lucerne in 1942, a winter logging camp in the 1930s and a horse-pulling contest at a Grange fair in Branch Mills in 1939.

The only touch of celebrity comes in some scenes shot at E.B. White’s saltwater farm in North Brooklin, although the famous writer himself doesn’t appear.

Pay attention and the differences with modern life can be stunning. Most people at the events are actually enjoying and engaging in the activities – no heads are bowed to keep up with what’s happening on a cellphone screen. There are reminders of how life has changed in other ways, too, from all the fancy hats at everyday events, the less-than-baring swimsuits at the lake and the man at a seaside picnic casually tossing an empty beer can that he has finished drinking onto the rocks at the shore.

But things that might surprise modern sensibilities are a key part of the appeal, Evans said.

“Home movies are rife with sincerity,” said Evans, who produced the film. “You just find these little jewels” to tell the story.

She likens her work to “collaborating with ghosts.” Some people who previewed the film, she said, came away with a touch of sadness to think that everyone seen in it is probably dead.

But the film shows a lot of life, in small slices from small towns in Maine.

“It’s not history, it’s much more present than that,” Evans said. “The material is powerful.”

Evans winnowed the hourlong film from 10 million feet in Northeast Historic Film’s collections. Much of the film the organization has acquired came out of peoples’ attics and barns, she said, and the society uses a machine to scan the movies and convert the fragile film to digital to preserve the material. Although the age of some of the film is apparent from the limits of the technology, it’s in remarkably good shape.

Evans said she was thrilled to tell the story of Mainers and also to tap into the society’s archives.

“I’ve been saying for two decades that we have to make it work, not just preserve it,” she said.


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