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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Dover 4th Graders' Film Among Festival Offerings

Hundreds of video artists, industry insiders and fans will be in Dover and Wilmington this weekend for the Independent Television and Film Festival

Fifty-eight independent films, TV pilots, and web series have been chosen for screening at the three-day event. There’s also one locally produced docudrama that’s in a class by itself.

A fourth Grade class spent three months last year producing. It’s titled “Tragedy and Triumph: A Civil War Anthology.” The eighteen-minute video will open the festival Thursday.

The Independent Television and Film Festival was launched in 2006. It’s taken place in Los Angeles until this year.

Philip Gilpin, Jr., this year’s festival director, owns a marketing company in West Dover, but for years he worked in the television industry in L.A. He’s been involved with the festival since it started.

When Gilpin learned that the event’s founders were looking for a new location, he suggested Southeastern Vermont.

“I-T-V Fest within the industry has always been known as the Sundance of television,” Gilpin says. “so it was a natural fit to bring the festival to a mountain valley.”

Gilpin says the festival’s mission is to encourage  high quality content and emerging talent.

“The purpose of bringing a project to ITV Fest is to showcase individual TV projects to networks, cable stations and the general public,” Gilpin explains. “So that it can potentially be picked up by a network or developed further by a production company.”

The makers of  “Triumph and Tragedy” have no such ambitions -- at least not yet.

The docudrama was created by Michael Degnon’s fourth graders at Dover Elementary School.

It covers some sensitive material: a slave auction, a whipping and a lot of battles and blood shed. In one scene, set in a cotton field, the slave boy Elijah confronts the overseer of a southern plantation.

“That’s what I think of this plantation,” the slave boy says, throwing down his sack. “I’ll be free one day. I tell you free.” The overseer snaps back: “You have no right to insult me and this plantation like that. And you are never going to be free.”

Fortunately Elijah, who’s played by Griffin McFadyen, connects with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Michael Degnon says the project began when the class read some fictionalized civil war stories that used real documents, letters and diaries.

Degnon says combining all those elements helped the students experience the subject matter at a deeper level.

It also exposed them to some powerful technological tools. Greg Montgomery, the school’s director of technology, introduced them to software that let them drop in background photos -- of a cotton field for example -- after they taped a scene.

The kids used toy soldiers, Play-Doh flames and a stop-motion ‘jelly cam’ to create an animated map of General Sherman’s march.

They stomped on milk cartons from the cafeteria to create battle sounds.

Degnon says the video has some rough edges, but he says the next one will be even better.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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