By Leah Tedesco and Sam Schles
The panels twist and turn around and then jolt upward like a giant movie reel as if the film had spilled out. Terry Harbin walks around the Ithaca Motion Picture Project exhibit set up as a giant history timeline reel at the Tompkins County Public Library and takes a seat inside the gallery to watch a silent film made in Ithaca in the early 20th century.
“They wanted to use Ithaca, they wanted to use our buildings, our city and they embraced them,” Harbin, founder of Ithaca Made Movies, said.
From Oct. 1 till Nov. 6 Ithaca Motion Picture Project will feature eight separate exhibits called “Romance, Exploits and Peril: When Movies Were Made,” in different locations including the library, Gimme! Coffee and Cayuga Medical Center. The exhibits features silent film history in Ithaca created by the Wharton Brothers.
Diana Riesman and Connie Bruce are co-founders of the Ithaca Motion Picture Project. Reisman said they started the non-profit project because they wanted to preserve and celebrate central New York’s film history.
“I think Ithacan’s are interested in local history and want to remember it,” Riesman said. “If you don’t work to preserve these things, then that history is gone.”
These films use Ithaca’s gorges, Cayuga Lake, and Stewart Park as a backdrop.
“The Wharton Brothers picked Ithaca for its mix of rustic and urban beauty,” Riesman said.
Harbin said the Leopold and Theodore Wharton began filming silent movies in Ithaca from 1914 to 1919. They are known for their serial films and films like “The Romance of Elaine.”
“The movie making in Ithaca was special,” Harbin said. “It was special for the people that were here, they got to see their friends that were in it. Some of the people in movies went over in the war, fighting in France and they saw some of the movies over there.”
The History Center in Tompkins County is participating in the exhibit and will feature a walking tour of six of the eight exhibit locations in town. Scott Callan, director at the History Center in Tompkins County, said he hopes the project will generate interest in local history.
“This is a community that rarely stops to think about what happened 10 years ago much less 100 or 200 years ago and if anything we have a great meta history that a lot of people just don’t know about,” Callan said.
The largest exhibit featuring these silent films is in the Tompkins County Public Library. Sally Grubb, development associate at Tompkins County Public Library, said the library decided to feature the exhibit because it is a great resource for the community.
“We have 40,000 patrons a month, with many repeats,” Grubb said. “We are the ideal place for an exhibit to be because we have the space.”
Riesman said her goals for the exhibit are to create awareness for locals and visitors about the film history of Ithaca and generate support for a motion picture museum.
“There are lessons to be learned,” Riesman said. “Film of course now is technologically so advanced, digitally and computerized, but the essence of film making has not changed.”