By John Walker
DUNCAN — With nearly 500 people attending in the first day and a half alone, the Trail Dance Film Festival is shaping up to be a success this year.
“We estimate that when we counted the sales between the heritage center and the Simmons Center, volunteers, sponsors and filmmakers, we’ve had nearly 500 people attend so far,” Duncan Convention and Visitors Center Director Jessika McDonnell said.
Many of the filmmakers are from out of state, some from New York, some from Los Angeles. All of them are here to network with others and promote their films.
One filmmaker, whose regular job is a reporter for ABC News in Los Angeles, came here for only the second time in his life and really enjoyed the atmosphere, he said.
“I came out to cover the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,” Doug Lantz said. “I haven’t been back since, but the people are so welcoming and kind here.”
Lantz said as he was driving from Oklahoma City to Duncan this week, he had a good heart-warming conversation with the person at the toll booth for about 10 minutes.
“That was surprising,” he said. “People are really pleasant here.”
Many of the volunteers have also enjoyed themselves at the festival this weekend. As volunteers, they also get free passes to all of the shows over the three-day period.
“I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far,” volunteer Cecil Brewer said. “My wife and I watched a couple of shows Friday night and really liked the movie about the Sand Creek Massacre.”
According to the preview summary of the movie, “Sand Creek Massacre” portrays the horrific event from the Cheyenne and Arapahos’ perspective when more than 400 women, children and elderly were slaughtered by military troops in 1864.
“I had never heard about this event before,” Brewer said.
While he enjoyed watching the movie, Brewer said that there seemed to be no motive for the event, just cold-blooded murder.
“Sand Creek Massacre” is only one of approximately two dozen documentaries being shown over the course of this weekend-long event at the Simmons Center and Chisholm Trail Heritage Center.
In fact, one of the better-known producers of historical documentaries held a well-attended seminar on Saturday in the big auditorium.
“I started working for CBS News almost 30 years ago,” Bill Kurtis said. “In 1990, I sold my first documentary to A&E.;”
Since then, he has produced more than 300 different documentaries on a variety of topics. One of his favorite subjects is historical documentaries, but he soon realized that he walked a thin line between telling history in an interesting way and changing the historical facts.
“We wanted to make good entertainment, but still be accurate to what occurred,” Kurtis said.
Though makers of documentaries need to simplify certain elements of the story each time, they also try to be true and fair to the events portrayed, which Kurtis said he felt he was able to reach most of the time.
His crew also came up with a new way to film the re-enactments so as to give the viewer the feeling that it is a re-enactment and not Hollywood.
“We slowed the shutter speed down on the cameras to about 15 frames per second,” he said. This caused a blurred appearance that is unique to Kurtis’ documentaries.
“I fell in love with that method,” he said.
He also fell in love with recreating history and seeing it re-enacted before his eyes. Kurtis in many ways feels like a guide for his viewers. He tries to capture all sides of the story and present to an audience something that is both entertaining and educational at the same time, he said.
One of the reasons he feels so passionate about historical documentaries is his perceived lack of good historical education these days.
“We are in danger of losing history,” Kurtis said. “We don’t teach it very well in our schools anymore.”
When asked whether his team would ever run out of ideas for historical documentaries, Kurtis replied that one of the things he looks for is a story with a different element than previously known.
There are plenty of stories that meet his criteria when one peruses history, so he doesn’t think he is in danger of running out of ideas.
“History is being made all the time,” Kurtis said.