By Carissa Davis and Sarah Pride, with reporting from the PHC Herald
Patrick Henry College
Student director Ian Reid (behind the camera) prepares to film a shot, while students Mike Ciandella and Sarah McCartney assist.
Students begin with a historical overview and select film screenings, after which class members may choose one of three options for a final project -- including writing a typical academic paper or, alternately, creating a film. This year, most of the students chose to produce an actual film.
The choice was obvious for Ian Reid, a PHC junior. Reid has interned with Advent Film Group, which produced the movie Come What May at PHC in summer of 2007, and has served as a production assistant elsewhere. He took the project as an opportunity to move beyond his own personal abilities and to incorporate an entire team. Along with other Film class students Mike Ciandella, Bridget Degnan, Sarah McCartney, Elizabeth Dalla Betta, and Zachary Renne, Reid stepped out to write and direct The Struggle, a story about a Civil War soldier displaced in time into modern Washington, D.C.
“I love historical films, and I love time travel movies,” Reid told the Herald. “[“The Struggle”] is not [solely] a period film, or a science-fiction piece.
“I think at first [my crew was] like, how are we going to do this?” he noted.
Dalla Betta, who worked as the casting director, assembled a cast of both students and local actors from the community through casting calls. Betta simultaneously served as co-director for Eden Troupe’s fall semester play, The Christmas Carol, another huge time commitment.
“I felt like a little kid stepping out into a big adult world,” she said, marveling how the actors in these productions responded to her emails with “Dear Casting Director,” or “Ma’am.”
“At least we were getting credit for the project,” said Wesley Grose, another PHC student who worked on the film. “But these guys (local actors) weren’t really getting anything out of the deal. They were all excited to be there and gave an amazing performance.”
Fictional Union soldier "Pierce" makes his way through the forest.
“The biggest highlight was when we were filming in D.C. and I almost got arrested,” Reid said. At one point, when Reid and his crew had a tripod set up in front of the Library of Congress to film their displaced soldier slowly descending the steps in full uniform, D.C. police questioned Reid and informed him that he lacked a proper permit to film. The students discovered a loophole in the regulations, however, that allowed them to put away the tripod and continue filming by hand.
“God was definitely watching over us,” said Joshua Pidek, another extra-Film class volunteer from PHC.
In the final product, the fictional Civil War soldier, “Pierce,” cuts a startling figure against the backdrop of D.C. One particularly poignant scene features him taking in the scope of the Vietnam War memorial. Reid told Leesburg Today, quoting the movie’s last line, that Pierce goes from being “disillusioned and feeling there is nothing worth living for to the realization some things ‘are worth living and dying for and some things are worth the struggle.’”
Reid and the others submitted a 15-minute version of the film for an informal film festival this past week during class, attracting enough audience members to fill Nash Auditorium. Reid hopes to enter an extended, 20- 30-minute cut in the Sundance Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.
Another filmmaker, PHC alumnus Matthew Exline served as a guest director in the class’s film festival. His 55-minute original documentary, Leesburg: An Exploration Through Time, tells the history of Leesburg over the past 250 years.
Exline created the documentary at the request of the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, where he interned as a student. He worked with employees of the library, including Beth Schuster, who contributed her expertise on still photographs, and Stephanie Adams Hunter, who did most of the general research.
“It turned out to be a pretty tall order,” Exline said. “How do you summarize 250 years of history in a way that’s interesting to the man on the street and isn’t going to cause his eyes to glaze over?”
The documentary premiered at a public screening at the Thomas Balch Library on October 3.
Exline hopes his documentary encourages others to care about local history. “We get locked into our time-box. I would like people to be able to understand how things were different, what things were like. People had to work to make it as it is now.”
In May, Exline and the other members of the production team plan to speak at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) about the making of the documentary. Exline would like the documentary to eventually be released on DVD, “but that’s up to the town of Leesburg.” For now, the documentary will fulfill its original purpose of training town employees.
Last year’s PHC film festival screened Exline’s documentary of the W&OD railway, which he created for Veith’s film class.
One other team wrote and shot a film for Dr. Veith’s class -- a creative script written by a PHC student -- but they encountered last-minute technical difficulties and will have to screen their project at a later date.