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

Tunbridge Locals Spice Up New Documentary About World's Fair

Alden Pellet
The crowd cheers as Rosaire's Royal Racers racing pigs sprint around the racetrack at the Tunbridge World's Fair in 2006.

While many Vermonters celebrate winter holidays, an entire town is already deep into the planning for its annual summer extravaganza: The Tunbridge World’s Fair. Right now you can see a new video documentary about who and what makes the fair one of a kind.

“It was a really special time for me and my dad.”

“I took sixteen jars of stuff to the fair, and I won first on fifteen of ‘em.

“After after the Twin Towers were attacked and destroyed in New York, we stopped all the rides. There was ten minutes of silence except for hearing the cows in the background.”

Talking right to the camera, young and old Tunbridge folk invite you into the new half-hour documentary by Jake Cunavelis. It’s financed by White River Toyota, one of the commercial clients of his video ad agency, but it doesn’t have anything to do with cars.

“The first time I thought about what that fair’s meant to the state and to that area and its history, I thought, ‘This should be a project that should engage a lot of people and if we do it right should be very interesting,’” the director says.

And, he adds, should also drive traffic to the car dealer’s site.

But this documentary stands on its own as an un-squinting look at the fair, "by representing the entire town and all of its characters in their true form and even keeping a little bit of very soft conversational profanity in there,” Cunavelis says.

The short film delves briefly into a shady history of drunken fights and half-naked women. Historian Howard Coffin plays a cameo role looking back at that.

“I don’t think you can talk about the history of the Tunbridge Fair without talking about the girlie shows,” Coffin says in the film.

Another guy adds, “The Orange County Sheriff’s Department ran one of them…you know the people you put your trust in, they’re taking tickets for the girlie shows.”

The girlie shows are gone now, and overall, Cunavelis paints an admiring portrait of a now wholesome event. Editor Ben Chiappinelli creates a vocal and visual collage “…to make them fit together like a puzzle till  their voices come together in one message, so to speak,” he says.

That message seems to be that hard work and hard play keep rural tradition alive in this tiny town, at least four days out of what can be a long arduous year.

“It’s the Vermont I grew up in, as much as is left, and it is a place I dearly love,” we hear a man say at the end.  Tunbridge--A Vermont Town. A World’s Fair. It’s already at a website near you and, next summer, coming back for real.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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