Today I finished my speech for the upcoming screening at the Stafford County Historical Society on October 21st. I was originally invited to give a presentation on Mary Ball Washington, but after several members attended our premiere in Fredericksburg, a showing of the film took precedent. Following the documentary, I will be adding remarks that tie Kirkland’s actions in with Stafford County’s experiences. In order to do that I am “adding on” the rest of the story, which is the Union army’s evacuation of their wounded and retreat across the river.
This approach takes the film’s commentary on the human tragedy of the battle and transports the suffering, off of the Fredericksburg battlefield, over into Stafford County. I also talk about the public outrage to the mass casualties and Lincoln’s reaction to it. The more I watch this film with audiences, the more I realize that we made an anti-war film. I am very pleased that our initial goal of not glorifying the Civil War came through. There is a way to pay tribute to the action of courageous men, without romanticizing the horror that they inflicted on one another.
Even the music in our film depicts the brutality of the story. The theme song to The Angel of Marye’s Heights is titled “Fredericksburg 1862” and was written and performed by Will White. A tremendous songwriter and musician, Will generously allowed us to use his music and even donated copies of his latest CD “Rise Above” for us to play and sell at our events. He is a Virginia native who now lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Will’s family’s roots span the breadth of the South, and his songs reflect that heritage: bluegrass, Appalachian old-time, Delta blues, country and gospel, sung and played on 5-string banjo, acoustic and National steel slide guitars.
Will’s lyrics capture the essence of the film. Here’s the first verse:
They might have crossed the Rubicon and charged the gates of Hell No mortal man could cross that land the Rebels raked so well The soil was sown with flesh and bone and watered down with blood As drops of rain they fell to stain that field of frozen mud, that field of frozen mud
I am anxious to see if this approach is well received as far too many speakers nowadays tend to gloss over the ferocity of war. If I do this right, the audience will leave with a better sense of what Kirkland and his fallen foes experienced after the battle ended. That being death, destruction, and devastation.
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 11:21 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 29 September 2010 9:45 AM EDT
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Sunday, 26 September 2010
What a weekend
Saturday’s screening at the University of Mary Washington could not have gone better. This weekend was the college’s annual “Family Weekend” when parents and students are treated to a variety of special events celebrating the school’s culture and surrounding history.
Our invitation came courtesy of Abbie McGhee, Coordinator of Community Events and Ceremonies. The screening was held at the newly refurbished Lee Hall in one of the school’s state-of-the-art media rooms. The campus staff and student attendants that assisted us were outstanding and the audience was very receptive to our presentation. I was joined by cast members Megan Hicks, John Cummings, and later, Don Pfanz. The audience had some excellent questions for John and me during the casual Q&A.
During the film’s introduction, I gave the audience some background on our past speeches and panel discussions. I recalled our previous weekend at Liberty University where we had held a forum discussing the preservation and education of history. I then informed the audience that we would be doing nothing of the like for them. The reason I added, was the unique opportunity that this particular group had. That opportunity was an exclusive invite to tour the nearby historical landmark Brompton. This magnificent estate sits atop Marye’s Heights and bore witness to the Battle of Fredericksburg. The story of Richard Kirkland literally took place in the shadow of this manor, so the tour fit perfectly with our story.
Completely preserved, Brompton is the residence of the acting president of the university and is not open to the public. In over 10 years of giving tours at the sunken road, I knew of only two people who had ever been inside the mansion. As this was “Family Weekend,” the newly appointed (and tremendously popular) UMW President Richard V. Hurley, graciously opened his home to visitors. Following the screening we headed over to Brompton and were given free reign to walk the house and grounds. During the tour, members of the staff took us out back to meet the president and his wife along with the college’s chief of staff Martin A. Wilder Jr. Apparently they had heard some great reviews of the film and after discussing the origins of the project, President Hurley proposed the idea of holding a private screening. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and told the president that we would be honored to oblige him.
The biggest satisfaction of the weekend came in the private discussions that I had with parents and students who shared a great love of history. Several of them had specifically chosen UMW, due to it’s close proximity to historical sites and hallowed grounds. All of them expressed their gratitude for our film and are anxiously awaiting the release of our DVD.
Below: A rare view of the Kirkland Monument (in yellow highlight) from the front porch of Brompton.
Dr. Kenny Rowlette, Liberty University Professor and Director of the National Civil War Chaplains Museum and me (Photo by Kathleen Warren)
As I reflect on last week’s screening at Liberty University and prepare for Saturday’s showing at the University of Mary Washington, I am pleasantly surprised that education is becoming a popular aspect of our documentary. In addition to the theaters and libraries, we are getting more and more requests from museums and colleges to present our film. We then compliment the evening with individual speeches or panel discussions.
The topic of “teaching history” is routine, while the participants and discussions are not. The overall theme encourages our audience to recognize how important it is to preserve and present history to our young people. After all, they are the historians and storytellers of tomorrow. We also discuss what we can do in today’s modern-age to encourage an interest in our past.
What makes our presentations so unique and well-received? I believe it is the variety of ages and stages that we include on our panel. This of course is a direct reflection of our film’s cast and crew. We are a very diverse group and equally passionate about our own respective parts in this project. From home-schooled kids and grad students, to retirees and techies, we cover all bases of amateurs and professionals. Our historians (me included) cover a wide-range of disciplines and each of us brings a different perspective to the screen.
This ‘melting pot’ mentality is what we try to emulate on our panels. Topics at these chats include parental philosophies, emerging technologies, defining real heroes for our children, and how to inspire value in learning about our past. It is our hope that the audience will walk away with something that they were not aware of when they entered the room.
We call it ‘living history’ where you can awaken a student’s natural curiosity with a great story. This can lead to further interest and investigation into the topic. In other words, our film on Richard Kirkland may drive a student to want to learn more about the Battle of Fredericksburg, which in turn will result in he/she opening a book, or visiting the battlefield to see firsthand what Kirkland experienced.
Chances are they will relate more to the subject matter and walk away with a better understanding of the events from that day. In addition, they will probably retain the memory of that experience, which will assist them in recalling the lessons that they learned. (I can’t tell you the title of my 10th-grade history book or what was in it, but I remember our field trips to Fort Pitt and the Carnegie Museum.)
None of our team are licensed teachers or educators at any level, but the faculty and professors at these prestigious schools really like what we have to say and see it as a benefit. At Liberty, students were encouraged to attend our screening and some classes received extra credit for writing their thoughts. Our stage crew was students and the press that covered us were journalism majors. All of them seemed to have an interest in either history or film.
What really impressed me were the young people that work at the National Civil War Chaplains Museum and the Victorian Society. Clearly they have a passion for the subject and their contributions as research assistants, guides and re-enactors are extraordinary. Some even expressed a desire to work on their own documentary films.
As a 16+year resident of the great state of Virginia, and a parent of 4 (spread out from college to diapers) I have always been disappointed in the Old Dominion’s approach to teaching. The public schools in our region receive their funding based upon how well their students perform on an SOL (Standards of Learning) test. The result of this requirement is that you have a child learning the history questions that are on the test instead of a well-rounded knowledge of the topic. In response, parents and mentors must find ways to connect with young people so that they have a desire to look beyond the SOL.
On the other side of the spectrum you have kids in VA private schools learning whatever their teacher feels is important. If “critical thinking” is their teacher’s preferred focus, students may learn more about the act of analyzing history instead of the events themselves. This is misguided in my opinion as the 'process' inevitably becomes more important than the subject matter.
Knowing what took place in our past and understanding how we can apply those lessons in our daily lives is what matters. How does one do that? Admitting that times have changed and that this new generation responds differently to learning is crucial. Using the tools and technologies that we have today to reach young people and show them that history doesn’t have to be a boring textbook is essential.
The question one should ask is: Are you really teaching history, or are you teaching how to examine history? These are both very different goals. I believe the latter cannot be effective without the former. Inspiration can lead to education. We like to think that our documentary can lead from one to the other.
Stay tuned for photos from this weekend's MWU screening and tour of Brompton.
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 11:13 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 23 September 2010 11:46 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Liberty recap online
I posted a recap of the Liberty University screening over on the movie website and included links to all associated media. (Pictured, Clint and I with ladies from the Victorian Society.)
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 12:25 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 September 2010 8:14 AM EDT
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Monday, 20 September 2010
Back on the Grid
We just returned from an outstanding weekend at Liberty University. In addition to our screening, which benefitted the National Civil War Chaplains Museum, we also hosted a Q&A panel to share our thoughts on education in regards to documentary filmmaking and how it can be used to preserve our history for the next generation. We had a crowd of hundreds and they were very receptive. Spending the weekend as guests in the Carter Glass Mansion, hanging out with our good friend Richard Williams, and worshipping with Jonathan Falwell at the famous Thomas Road Baptist Church was not a bad deal either. I will be posting a complete recap on our movie’s blog including radio interviews, event video, and plenty of photos over the next week. This positive response to our film continues to grow by leaps and bounds and we could not be more grateful. Check back over the next week and don’t forget about this weekend’s upcoming screening at the University of Mary Washington.
UPDATE: Here is an excerpt from our panel discussion in which our Motion Graphics specialist Darrin Dick discusses the possibilities of using emerging technology to present historical elements that are no longer there. (Video courtesy of Kathleen Warren)