Viewers will have a chance to see local residents on film at 1934-1936 Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fairs, playing baseball in a game at Baker Field, and struggling in the aftermath of the 1938 flood.
TSN’s Bob Edwards says the film hasn’t been seen by anyone in the valley for more than 70 years. “It was lost footage, made in the 1930s on 35mm movie film,” he says. “It’s very high quality.”
Neither Edwards nor Moore can explain how the film ended up a Massachusetts museum, but Edwards says he has learned why the film was made, and when it would have been shown in Wilmington. He says they were the equivalent of local newsreels. “It was related to the movies shown in Memorial Hall in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” he says. “A guy named Nilman, who owned movie theaters all over northwestern Massachusetts and southern Vermont (and showed movies at Memorial Hall) shot these pieces as ‘shorts’ for the local movie theater.”
The film includes several different pieces shot from 1934 to 1938. Edwards says the whole thing is about 22 minutes long. “A lot of it moves quickly,” he says, “but we’ve slowed some of it down so the presentation is closer to 40 minutes.”
Edwards says the best thing about the film is the people – some of whom are still around today. “Especially the fair footage,” he says. “It really shows the times – the vehicles, the way people dressed. Fair day was a big deal back then.” Both Edwards and Moore say the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fairs of the 1930s appear to have had a more agricultural focus, but the rides and the midway were part of the festivities, too.
Although flooding from Tropical Storm Irene was a major disaster, Edwards says it appears there was more damage from the flood of 1938. “There were a lot of similarities in the way the town looked after the flood,” he says. “My guess is that the footage was shot within a day or two after the flood.”
Historical society president Julie Moore says the film was discovered about two years ago on a dusty shelf in a museum outside of Boston. The film canister was simply marked “Wilmington, VT,” and a museum worker contacted the historical society to see if they were interested in it. The society was interested, but because the film was originally manufactured using a highly flammable nitrocellulose base, it’s considered a hazardous material that can’t be shipped through regular channels. Moore says historical society member Sally Gore made the trip to Boston to pick up the footage.
The nitrocellulose used to manufacture film before the 1950s is made from essentially the same chemical compound used in the manufacture of smokeless gunpowder. The film industry replaced nitrocellulose in film with an acetate-based cellulose in the 1950s. If not properly stored in a cool, dry place, nitrocellulose film can decompose into an even more flammable state.
Edwards says the Wilmington film was in remarkably good condition, including the images. “It’s in pristine condition,” he says. “Usually it’s disintegrated.”
Today, however, the use of nitrocellulose film is strictly controlled. It can’t simply be threaded onto a projector at the back of Memorial Hall. Edwards wanted to have the film converted to digital format, but there are few places that are certified to work with nitrocellulose film.
Edwards said he turned to Barry Reardon, a local resident and retired president of distribution for Warner Bros. films. Reardon was able to find a company in California that could make the conversion.
Edward said the digitized footage was ready for an initial public showing about a year ago. “Of course, nobody wanted to see flood footage last October, so we postponed the presentation.”
The Student Network has researched the film with the help of local residents who lived in town when the footage was shot – some of whom are in the footage. Cy Lavoy, Bob Greene, Rummy Sullivan, Betty and Pete Adams, and others have been in the studio, some on camera and some off camera, to talk about things in the film they remember. “We brought them in and went through the film piece by piece,” Edwards says. “They came up with some interesting things. I think it’s a very interesting film about the period.”