Amateur Night: Home Movies from American Archives

Fairy Princess

Fairy Princess by Margaret Conneely

Courtesy of the Margaret Conneely Collection, Chicago Film Archives,

16 mm, Color, Sound, 1955

Margaret Conneely was an award winning and prolific amateur filmmaker who began making films when she joined a Chicago amateur film club in 1949. She shot and directed 16mm films at a time when most of the women of these clubs were less technically inclined and often delegated to the role of actress or slide show manager. She was active in amateur filmmaking both locally and internationally for nearly half a century and quickly getting involved in the Amateur Cinema League and the motion picture division of the Photographic Society of America [PSA]. Her films drew on her domestic experiences, but they’re markedly different from “home movies” and she seemed to embed her stories of seemingly normal domestic life with a light and innocent-looking strand of wicked and even sadistic humor.

Mrs. Conneely enjoyed working and returned to work in the early 1950s, when her kids were old enough to go to school. Before she was married, she had worked as a legal secretary, and she later worked a variety of jobs, eventually parlaying her skills as a photographer and filmmaker into work as a medical photographer at Loyola University medical school in the 1960s. As her kids got older, and as she put it, were no longer so interested in being in her films, she turned increasingly to making films co-operatively in the context of amateur movie clubs in Chicago. Margaret was an active and vocal proponent of amateur movies, publishing articles in all kinds of magazines and newsletters, from the PSA journal to the New York Times. Club films – films where the entire club would pitch in on different elements of production–were a staple of most movie clubs; often they would make one or two per year, and devote the rest of their time to looking at individual members’ work. In the early 1960s, Conneely was instrumental in setting up a unique kind of film club, Central Cinematographers, which met once a week in downtown Chicago to make short fictional films together.

The Chicago Film Archives is a regional film archive dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to films that represent the Midwest. Its purpose is to serve institutions and filmmakers of the region and elsewhere by establishing a repository for institutional and private film collections; to serve a variety of cultural, academic and artistic communities by making films available locally, nationally and internationally for exhibition, research and production; and to serve our culture by restoring and preserving films that are rare or not in existence elsewhere. Particularly important to CFA’s holdings are collections of Chicago amateur filmmakers, whether they are collections of fiction narrative films or the more traditional domestic or travel home movies. [Nancy Watrous and Charles Tepperman]