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Made Here

'Love of the Land': Animated film highlights tragic story of Vermont farmer Romaine Tenney

The new animated short film "Love of the Land," from Vermont filmmaker Travis Van Alstyne, tells the story of Ascutney farmer Romaine Tenney, whose farm was seized by eminent domain in 1964 in order to build Interstate 91. Tragically, Tenney burned down his farm and home with himself locked inside.

Filmmaker Travis Van Alstyne answered questions via email with Vermont Public's Eric Ford. This interview has been lightly copy edited.

Eric Ford: How did you first hear about Romaine Tenney's story?

Travis Van Alstyne: I grew up in the small southern Vermont town of Chester, which is just 20 minutes from where Romaine Tenney lived. It wasn’t something that was taught in history class in school, but passed on by word of mouth — more as a kind of local folklore. It wasn’t until I was in high school (the late 1990s) that a childhood friend told me Romaine’s story. On a nighttime drive with him through Ascutney where Romaine’s house used to stand, he relayed it to me. I was captivated, and it has stuck with me ever since.

More from Vermont Edition: Remembering Romaine Tenney

A photo of a man named Travis Van Alstyne. He's wearing glasses.

Eric Ford: Why did you decide to make a film about it? Not just a film, but an animated film?

Travis Van Alstyne: When I made the decision to create a short film I knew I wanted the subject matter to be based on Vermont history, but I hadn’t decided on the topic yet. I love Vermont, and I was looking for a factual story that would encapsulate some of the values that I think make our state special. For me, being a Vermonter, you can’t separate the land from who we are. The trees, hills, mountains, lakes, and streams; it’s all caught up in our sense of place, our home. And Romaine Tenney, and his story, embodies this.

As far as choosing animation, I’ve always been mesmerized by it. And, I was fortunate enough to grow up during the Disney renaissance of animated films in the 1990s (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, etc.). My passion for animated film even led me to graduate from the Savannah College of Art & Design’s animation program. So, when it came time to tell Romaine Tenney’s story it felt only natural for me to do so through animation.

More from Vermont Public: As tree falls, state ponders how to memorialize Romaine Tenney's death, legacy of resistance

Eric Ford: What was the animation process like, and how long did it take?

Travis Van Alstyne: I chose to utilize a rotoscope animation technique. This process relies on recording video of a live action actor, in this case myself, and then drawing over that frame by frame. I used a tablet and stylus to draw over the video, but I didn’t make use of any technology to speed the process up. It’s just hand drawing and coloring each of the 3,000 digital frames one by one. Rotoscoping is great for creating a very realistic style and movement, which was perfect for the tone of the film. The entire project has taken four years to complete, two of which were solely dedicated to animation.

A hand drawing an animated photo on electronic device
Travis van Alstyne
Rotoscoping process

Eric Ford: George Woodard seems like the perfect choice to voice Romaine. How did you connect with George for this project, and what was it like working with him?

Travis Van Alstyne: George Woodard is a filmmaker, actor, and dairy farmer from Waterbury Center, and you couldn’t ask for anyone better to bring Romaine’s voice to life. I became aware of George’s acting and filmmaking work when I started looking for someone to narrate Love of the Land and instantly knew he was the one. We talked on the phone a few times, in between when George was out in the barn and doing farm chores, and I mailed him a script. The biggest challenge George and I had was that it was 2020 and the pandemic had just begun. To record his audio I dropped off a box full of equipment on his porch, he’d record the audio himself, and then leave the box back out on the porch for me.

Eric Ford: You're doing a screening tour around Vermont this year with the film. Can you give us some details about that?

Travis Van Alstyne: I’m really excited to be touring "Love of the Land" around Vermont this summer and into the early fall! So far, it’ll be screening in Essex Junction, Montpelier, St. Albans, Middlebury, Springfield, and possibly a few other towns. After the eight-and-a-half minute animation screens, I’ll be giving a historical talk on Romaine Tenney, a behind the scenes look at making the film, and an audience question and answer session. To find out more about the summer screenings, you can visit the film’s website.

Eric Ford: What do you hope people will take away from your film and the story of Romaine Tenney?

Travis Van Alstyne: My biggest hope is that folks will take away from the short film how much Romaine Tenney loved his farm and way of life. He was a friendly and gentle individual, not a rabble-rouser, even in the face of losing his farm to eminent domain. His gravestone epitaph describes him best, “Guardian of his land and friend to all."

Vermont Public is proud to present "Love of the Land" online and on broadcast. Van Alstyne was a recipient of the Made Here Fund, which provided funding towards the creation of this film.

As Director of Content Partnership, Eric works with individuals and organizations to make connections leading to more Vermont stories. As Producer of the Made Here series, Eric partners with filmmakers from New England and Quebec to broadcast and stream local films. Find more info here: