Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reminisce With Movie Memories


I am Ron Hall.  I created Movie Memories as a group activity for Retirement Communities.  Short, vintage films followed by questions and the encouragement to "Share Your Memories" has proven to be a bigger hit than anyone imagined!  Seniors love to reminisce.  The entertaining films light the spark, the questions fan the blaze until reminiscing roars like a forest fire.  Besides being a lot of fun, we found out in tests that they also help with Alzheimers and Memory Therapy.

Movie Memories did not spring out of nowhere.  I have been selling movies since 1975 to schools, libraries, DVD companies, the Internet and the home market. Most of them are public domain films whose copyrights have long expired.  You can see the range of public domain films at my Festival Films website.

On Jan. 8 at my Café Roxy Blog I wrote about "Ideas to Launch a Scheme On." On Jan. 22 I mentioned in "The Birth of Festival Films" how I stumbled into selling 16mm classics to colleges that needed prints to own rather than to rent. I sum up in both that the key to a successful business is 1) Don't copy others. 2) Find a new audience. 3) Create a new product for that audience. They probably teach that the first day in Business 101, except I never took a basic business course in high school or college.

Around the first of December, 2011, I put on my thinking cap to find that new product for a new audience. I found it in the shorts I have been collecting for Café Roxy Matinees and Cartoon Brunches. I found it in an old project from 1998 that I failed to pursue properly: "The Remembering Series." My sell sheet is below. Click to enlarge if interested. I sent out a few of these to retirement communities in Minnesota, made a few sales and then decided it was too hard to reach this audience.

I spell out the basic idea well: "This unique video series is designed for the entertainment and enjoyment in retirement and nursing home facilities. Your residents will revisit moments from their past that made them laugh, cry, tap their toes and sing their hearts out. These professionally produced, quality presentations are absolutely guaranteed to delight or your money back! We can make this guarantee because the contents were selected in consultation with leaders in the Senior Activities field. The videos have been tested on audiences with overwhelming acclaim!"

One problem was that the short films were on VHS and could not be accessed easily. Another problem was they were just a collection of films to watch. Retirement homes all have Activity Directors, whose job is to supply activities. I found a way to turn old movies into activities: Watch them one at a time with a group of friends. Pause the show. Ask questions related to the film just seen. The questions stir memory and spark discussions that can go in any direction. Music can even reach seniors with Alzheimers.  

Movie Memories are nostalgic films from the 1930s through the 1960s. They may be watched for historical interest, as time capsules into eras long vanished or for pure enjoyment of the music, stars and family-friendly stories.

Movie Memories are designed to be shown to seniors who grew up in those years. Watching the films they enjoyed in their youth -- as well as the television shows and newsreels, the cars and trains, homes and schools, filling stations and drug stores, hairstyles and fashions, toys and sports -- will serve as a catalyst to reminisce about their pasts.

Movie Memories work well with small groups of friends who enjoy talking together. A moderator or group leader shows films one at a time from a DVD player connected to a television or projection TV system. After each segment is screened, they read trivia about the film and ask questions from the study guide. The discussion should be encouraged to go in any direction it wants and take as long as the participants desire. For instance, “The Fifth Freedom” could spark a discussion of favorite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies or how they enjoyed Arthur Godfrey and Perry Como on TV. It could also lead into small towns they grew up in, or happy memories of family life, or how everyone smoked during the 1950s. One short could thus fill an hour with lively talk.

Not every film will have a direct connection to normal lives, since few have been astronauts, cowboys or big game hunters, but every vintage film will stir memories of a way of life through the images frozen in time. Every good story will touch on the universal themes of good and evil, conflict, goals, success, love and friendship. Discussion can always return to the movie-going experience: “The popcorn was so good and only cost a dime.” “Roy Rogers was my hero.” “We took a streetcar to the Roxy every Saturday afternoon.” “I got my first kiss watching Tarzan.”

The purpose of Movie Memories is to encourage discussion of any topic. We all have memories of growing up and raising a family. What better way to recall our pasts than to revisit those days on film and reminisce in the company of friends?

Movie Memories has been launched on my website! You can see the contents of the first four volumes plus Music of the 1930s and Music of the 1940s, along with the Discussion Guides that a moderator reads from to spark discussions.  You can even watch 8 segments of Movie Memories from the website.  Here is an example that has been abridged by a few minutes to get to the questions sooner.

Can you picture 20 or 30 seniors fighting to talk about their favorite childhood toy, doll or board game?  Who was your favorite cowboy hero?  Who can name the most Big Bands?  Who can sing loudest during the Cartoon Sing-Along?

Films + Questions = Memories to Share!  Now I just need to reach the thousands of activity directors who work with seniors! 

Visit my website at Festival Films


  1. This is not only a fun activity but I think this really helps with the overall wellness of seniors. Reminiscing is very common and normal for this age group. They need to find satisfaction with their past.It is good activity and I hope every community like new york retirement community will do this as well.

  2. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for the comments.
    I will send you a free Movie Memories Sampler DVD, if you email me your mailing address to