The H. Lee Waters Film Collection dates from 1936 to 2005 and comprises primarily 16mm black-and-white and color reversal original motion picture films created by Waters between 1936 and 1942 as he traveled across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia filming the residents of small towns. Waters aimed to film as many residents in each community as possible, often setting up his camera at the main intersection in town to capture community members walking downtown. Waters also typically filmed school children entering or leaving school and workers arriving to or departing from mills, plants, and factories. Waters often included trick shots to engage his audience, such as trains moving backwards or children jumping in reverse. Although the films are dominated by shots of crowds and individual faces, Waters also captured a wide variety of activities, like school recitals, sports, mechanics at work, and manufacturing processes in factories. Waters also regularly filmed in Black communities within the towns he visited, and in the case of Chapel Hill, filmed exclusively in the Black community.
The H. Lee Waters Film Collection dates from 1936 to 2005 and is comprised primarily of 16mm black-and-white and color reversal original motion picture films created by Waters during the filming of the Movies of Local People series. The collection, arranged alphabetically by town name, also includes various preservation and access elements created over the years from the original footage: 16mm internegatives, 16mm screening prints, 3/4-inch Umatic videotape, Betacam SP videotape, Digital Betacam videotape, VHS videotape, DVD discs, and high resolution digital files including 2K preservation video copies. The majority of films represented in the collection are silent, black and white, and were filmed in North Carolina. The collection includes a small number of color films and one film with sound. Where reels containing mixed black-and-white and color footage were preserved to 16mm film, they were separated into two reels based on picture characteristic during the preservation process.
The collection also contains a small number of papers and physical objects related to Waters, including: photocopied and original advertisements for screenings of Waters' films; photocopies of Waters' notes, receipts, and correspondence concerning film sales; related ephemera; VHS copies of a news report and a film on Waters; a copy of the master's thesis written on the films of H. Lee Waters by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Martin Johnson in 2005; home movies created by Waters from the 1930s to the 1950s; and oral histories with Mary Waters Spaulding and Tom Waters, the children of H. Lee Waters.
In addition, the collection contains a photocopy of two log books (encompassed in one volume) maintained by Waters between the years of 1936 and 1942 to document his earnings from the Movies of Local People films. The logs provide information about film screenings in the towns that he visited, including the dates of the screenings, the theaters where the films played, admission prices, the number of tickets sold, and advertising revenues. See the digital collection to view the logbooks.
Preservation screening prints, where they exist for particular films, may be projected by special request by on-campus departments or groups. For further information, contact Rubenstein Library Research Services.
Notes on ordering 2K+ digital copies of films
* The Waters collection at Duke was built across decades and consequently the moving image formats in the collection are diverse.
* All formats for each town film are listed in this collection guide, and a particular film may be represented by original reversal or preservation film reels, video tape or DVD derivatives made from the original reels, standard definition or high definition digital files, or a combination of all of these.
* Because many of the films in the Waters collection were preserved to film and digitized in the early 2000s with grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the majority of the digital copies in the collection are standard definition (720:480), following the technology of the time. Where a film resource can be safely scanned, higher definition digital scans of the films (up to UHD, 3840:2880) can be scanned in-house at the Rubenstein Library, on request and for a fee.
* If a reversal original reel (the film Waters shot and developed) exists and is in good condition, that will be the film that will be scanned.
* When requesting an 2K+ scan of a film, request the reversal original reel that is listed in the collection guide for that particular town/date.
* If the reversal original is too deteriorated or was destroyed in creating the copy negative, then the copy negative will be used. Note that copy negatives are typically less resolute than originals, and it is possible that an standard definition streaming copy will look more detailed than a 2K+ scan of a copy negative.
* All film scans are made at an aspect ratio of 4:3 and "over-scanned," meaning the frame includes the film's sprocket holes and a portion of the previous and subsequent frames.
* Where there is no film source remaining for a particular town film, a video image can be upscaled, but resolution will be lost.
* For further information, contact Rubenstein Library Research Services.