MARTIN HILL: CAMERA MAN tells story of Midland, N.C. movie camera collector
Hidden in a run down bowling alley in Midland is one of the greatest collections of movie camera equipment. And hardly anybody knows about it. But director Joanne Hock has been filming a documentary about the collection and its owner, Martin Hill.
“Martin is an eccentric gentleman who tried his hand at filmmaking and decided he was a better person selling the cameras than working behind them,” Hock said.
Hock said Hill’s collection is one of the largest in the world. The dilapidated bowling alley is crammed full of camera gear and lights and bits and bobs of Hollywood relics.
“There’s a lot of movie history in Martin’s bowling alley,” Hock said. “There’s seven or eight Academy award winning cameras.”
The documentary, "Martin Hill: Camera Man" screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 at the historic Gem Theatre, Kannapolis, N.C. Tickets are $4 each.
Hock said Hill’s collection includes the cameras used to film “Gone With the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” as well as the camera used for all of Charlie Chaplin’s movies.
Hill would often rescue cameras that were spray painted with the word, “scrap” on them, Hock said.
“He spent his entire life collecting this,” she said.
But now that Hill is growing older, it is becoming more difficult to maintain the massive collection.
Hock said she has reached out to the American Film Institute about receiving help to preserve the collection Hill built. She has known Hill for five years and has been filming his story. But with the future of his collection uncertain, Hock has just kept on filming.
“That’s why I’ve been doing it for five years,” she said. “I haven’t found an ending.”
And Hock knows there is value in the cameras that Hill has saved. Just one camera that was in Hill’s collection at one time was used to shoot the original, “Star Wars.” Hill had preserved the camera and eventually gave it to a friend.
The Panavision PSR 35mm camera that George Lucas used for principal photography on the first, “Star Wars” movie in 1977 was sold at a recent auction for more than $600,000, Hock said.
Hock knows that if more people get involved and see what Hill is trying to save, there is a good chance of preserving that history. She has watched people’s reactions to seeing his collection.
“I’ve had people go, ‘Wow!’” she said. “They are breathless when they walk in there. The scope and scale is overwhelming.”
When Hock sat down to the make the film she found that the scope and scale of her footage was a bit overwhelming as well. She has hours of interviews and hired a person just to go through the footage. She said there are hours of interviews and she needed fresh view of the footage.
She said Hill’s story is an important one, because he has preserved a bit of cinema history that would be lost without him.
“People had no respect for the tools that were used to craft some of the greatest movies of all time,” she said. “I hold him completely responsible for holding that equipment together.”