Story posted December 27, 2010
“MacMillan is coming!” More than 50 years ago these words announced an exciting event in communities across the country: famed Arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan would be in town with his motion pictures to tell eager audiences about his latest exploits.
Now people can relive this experience in a new DVD to be released by The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in January 2011. The Far North recreates a lecture given by MacMillan in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in 1959.
MacMillan was a very popular, and much-loved lecturer in a time when presentations by explorers and adventurers were a major form of popular entertainment. Typically he showed two reels of silent film, each about 45 minutes long, that he narrated while on the stage.
As he toured the country over the years he continually updated his film with new material from his latest trips. He made his last trip north in 1954, and continued to lecture until he was well into his 80s.
The film on this DVD has been reconstructed from MacMillan’s 16mm color film footage and a digitally restored audiotape made at a lecture he gave in the Boothbay Opera House in 1959.
Both the film footage and audiotape are held by the Arctic Museum. Film archivist Audrey Amidon, of the Bowdoin Class of 2003, an Arctic Museum intern in 2004, first reconstructed the newly digitized film footage based on what were thought to be MacMillan’s lecture notes.
Partway through the process, while considering how to add narration to the silent film, she realized that what appeared to be notes were actually pages of a transcript of a MacMillan lecture. A search through the museum’s collections of fragile reel-to-reel tapes revealed the original recording, which was promptly digitized as well.
Reunited, the tape and the film really convey the sense of being at a one of MacMillan’s famous lectures. In addition to MacMillan’s lecture, viewers can hear the 1959 audience’s response and MacMillan’s replies to their gasps and laughter.
Since it was first completed the museum has screened this digital restoration for a variety of audiences, including at Boothbay Harbor, always to great acclaim. “We are thrilled to make this film available both to those who remember hearing MacMillan in person and to a new audience,” says Arctic Museum Director Susan Kaplan.
For that new audience, the DVD also includes a short extra feature that includes a brief biography of MacMillan and some background on the film itself and the attitudes of the time. This feature has been assembled by the Museum’s current intern, Hillary Hooke, of the Bowdoin Class of 2009.
Working with archival film is a slow and expensive process. Funding for the DVD was provided by The Edgard and Geraldine Feder Foundation, Friends of the College Fund, John Gibbons Fellowship Fund, Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., and the Russell and Janet Doubleday Endowment.
The DVD will be available for purchase from the museum shop both in person and online. For more information, call Amy Hawkes at 207-725-3416, or visit the Arctic Museum webpage.