Artists perform on stage during Past Lives by Freefall arts.

Opening the door onto past lives

Posted on 09 December 2016

Supported by our Strategic Touring funding, Freefall Arts have been opening the door onto the past lives of four counties in the Midlands. Working with local communities, the team has digitised thousands of reels of home movie footage, piecing together people’s personal histories into a series of historical films set to live musical scores.

Moved and inspired - historic meets personal meets young creativity and musicians. A brilliant combination.

Past Lives. Image © Freefall Arts 

Everyday histories

Museums and the historical collections they care for help us to understand the past. But hidden in houses across the country are personal archives which can also help us learn more about who we are and where we came from. 

Like artefacts in museums, home videos tells the story of everyday life. They document the effect of time on people, places and cultures and they help preserve the important moments in people’s family and community lives. But if analogue film is not cared for properly, these memories can be lost forever.

Over the last three years, Freefall Arts has worked with people and communities in the Midlands to digitise more than 42,000 feet of home video footage.

Piecing these personal histories together, the project has opened the door onto the past lives of Bolsover, Buxton, Derby, Ilkeston, Ironbridge, Nottingham, Mansfield and South Holland with new audiences.

I laughed, I cried and feel honoured that Bolsover was one of the places chosen to do this project.

Old home movie reels in a brown trunk
Past Lives. Image © Freefall Arts 

Sharing stories

To get communities in each place talking about their local history, Freefall Arts hosted vintage cafes at local museums, galleries and village halls.

These events gave people the chance to watch film footage already housed in local archives, encouraging them to share their own stories, photos and home videos. The events drew more than 200 people in each place, many of whom then shared their own film footage from the 1940s through to the 1960s.  

Once people’s oral histories, photos and home movies had been collected, the team began to craft these into new films.

Young student musicians in each area worked with professional artists to co-produce contemporary soundtracks which were performed live at sell-out public screenings enjoyed by more than 5,000 people.

Everyone who shared their home videos all received a DVD copy of the footage, preserving their memories and personal heritage for years to come.

My children have memories of their grandparents to treasure in a wonderful film.

People watching old home movie footage in a village hall decorated with colourful bunting
Past Lives. Image © Freefall Arts 

How our funding helped

We supported the Past Lives projects through our Strategic Touring fund, which is aimed at bringing art and culture to more people in the places they live.

This funding meant that as the project travelled to each new place, the team had the time and resources they needed to build relationships with local artists, communities and venues.

It also supported the young student musicians to learn and perform alongside professionals, giving them hands-on experience of composing and performing contemporary soundtracks.

Historic meets personal meets young creativity and musicians. A brilliant combination.

Find out more

Watch more of the films on the Past Lives website.

Follow Past Lives and the Arts Council on Twitter.