Skip Elsheimer calls himself an audio-visual geek.
Although Elsheimer’s technical skills are varied, he’s famous for his vast archive of 16-millimeter educational films, filmstrips and vintage PSAs.
Electrical wires snake across the floor of his house and plug into giant, antiquated machines. More than 23,000 films are pancaked onto metal shelves in his home, including such titles as “Bookkeeping and you” and “Meat — From Range to Market.”
Elsheimer’s obsession began when he bought a batch of films to play behind his rock band during the 1990s. They were public health films mostly, exploring topics like venereal disease and pregnancy.
“It was a good batch,” he said, his eyes wide and bright.
These first films had the effect of rewiring Elsheimer’s brain. By the time he’d collected 10,000, he realized his life had been changed by the films.
He’s traveled from Georgia to Pennsylvania in rented vans in his quest to pick up loads of films.
“I get these phone calls saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get rid of this closet full of films. Are you interested in them?’” Elsheimer said. “It’s usually like me or the dumpster.”
In addition to archiving, Elsheimer regularly screens the films for devoted viewers at King’s Barcade in downtown Raleigh and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
Everyone who sees the films for the first time loves the cheesiness of the movies, Elsheimer said.
He agreed that the campy humor of films like, “Rock: It’s your decision” is undeniable. But the more films you watch, he argued, the more you realize how well the films act as mirrors to our society.
The films are a product of their time, he said, evidenced by differences in the films’ topics and storytelling techniques.