The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday March 26th

Q&A with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks


Have you ever wondered what happens to those educational films you had to watch in school when they’re considered obsolete? A landfill? They might end up in the hands of Skip Elsheimer, who collects old 16mm educational films.

His collection, now over 24,000 films strong, has footage of assembly lines, marching bands and just about anything somebody deemed appropriate to film. Elsheimer talked to staff writer Dixon Ferrell about his work.

DIVERSIONS: What are the films about? Why were they considered obsolete?

SKIP ELSHEIMER: Part of it is the information they are talking about — pretty much any subject you could possibly imagine, you pick a subject, and I probably have a film about it.

I have films on math, science, the importance of using dumpster instead of just throwing the trash on the ground.

I have a film about delivering a baby in the back of the car. You name it. The thing is, information changes over a period of time.

Also, depending on the target, sometimes they need to update because the clothing doesn’t look right or the hair doesn’t look right.

A film made in the ‘70s is not going to look right in the ‘90s. Especially with teenagers. Teenagers will not identify with somebody who looks like they grew up in the ‘60s. That’s the constant demand to update the information.

Also, in the ‘90s videotape was much more popular, easier and cheaper. So, a lot of schools started using VCRs and so they got rid of the film and the projectors.

DIVE: What time period are the films from?

SE: I have films from the early ‘20s up to the early ‘90s. The vast majority are from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

DIVE: What are your showings typically like?

SE: Well I usually pick a theme. This upcoming show is early films about computers.

Films from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. This was before everybody had a computer at their house, before smartphones and all that.

So it’s talking about the promise of: This is what the future is going to be like with computers, this is what’s going to be great, here are some things to watch out for.

There’s this Disney film that I have called “Ethics in the Computer Age.” It is for teenagers, trying to teach them not to pirate media and the dangers of hacking. Its an amazing, forward-thinking film.

They figured out what the problem was going to be in the future. There’s some other films that talk about the tools.

There’s a conference going on in downtown (Raleigh) called “A Code for Lib.” It’s librarians who do computer programming with databases.

So I was programming for that conference. It’s fascinating to look at the past because we know how things turned out. We’re living in the future, according to those films.


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