By Brian Mittge
Local film aficionados continue to find mentor, educator and sometimes boss in Hollywood transplant C. Tad Devlin and his Chehalis company, Northwest Film Projects. Since coming to Lewis County in 1988, Devlin has been busy encouraging local people to tell their stories about living in rural America. He has done so through film, community television and college classes. The year 2000 saw the release of the United Way fundraising video his company created. If things go according to plan, Devlin hopes to see two full-length film productions finished soon.
Devlin and his company are wrapping up post-production on their first feature film, “The Immigrant Garden” and hope to release the movie by Mother’s Day. The process has taken a little longer than normal. Devlin attributes the delay on the complexities of filming and producing every aspect of the film digitally. “It’s taken a little longer than normal, but we’re dealing with new technology.” he said. “causing software bugs, technical blockades, and steep learning curves. We’re behind six months.” After sound work and picture editing are finished, the world premiere of the movie will be at the Chehalis Theater, just two blocks from the six room office where the film was edited. Proceeds from the film will go to the Southwest Washington Dance Center.
Although filming and editing “The Immigrant Garden” has been a main focus for Northwest Film Projects, Devlin and Centralia physician Dr. Floyd Smith have been moving foreword on another major project, a documentary about the B-17 bomber. When finished the two hope to sell the five-part series to the History Channel. The movie will focus on Americans who flew the mighty plane known as the “Flying Fortress,” as well as German pilots who had to face them during World War II. Seeking to interview “ordinary people living in extraordinary times,” Smith traveled throughout America and Europe to interview those who flew the planes and those who had to face them.
To illustrate the sort of stories he found, Smith eagerly related a story of a German pilot who was sent to shoot down a crippled B-17 during the height of World War II. After flying to within 13 feet of the B-17 and seeing the crew faces inside, the German decided to escort the plane back to England, where it landed safely. “He looked at them and said to himself, “I’m not going to take these people out”. “So he escorted them back,” Smith said. After the war, he established contact with the (American) pilot of the B-17. The German and American later had a reunion in Atlanta.
In crafting the documentary, Smith looked for human kind of stories, to show similar backgrounds and humanity of the individuals on both sides who were somehow connected to the B-17. During filming Smith and Devlin traveled to a private air museum in Oregon, where they were able to film one of only 12 operational B-17s left in the world. That footage will be combined with archival film and photographs for the final five-part documentary.
In addition to supervising more than a dozen mostly teen-aged full and part-time workers at Northwest Film Projects, Devlin continues to teach film class at Centralia College. His upcoming class, Film Production Techniques Using Home Video, begins in January. The class explores visual literacy, storytelling, and video production using a home video camera. A Centralia College class two year ago included two students, Caroline Wood and Dr. Smith, who’s class projects blossomed into a script for “The Immigrant Garden”, and a B-17 documentary. Devlin’s Centralia College classes are open to the public. To register for Devlin’s $42 class, telephone the Continuing Education Department at 736-9391, Ext. 331.
Devlin describes the challenges of filmmaking as healthy for everyone involved.. “People are alot more generous when they get to work at what they want and need,” he said. It’s not just for youths. As far as Smith’s work on the B-17 project goes, “putting his neck on the line with a camera … is going to make him a better doctor,” Devlin said. According to Jamie Kline, a Centralia College graduate who is one of four full-time employees at Northwest Film Projects, Devlin is a patient teacher. “He cares about the community and his employees, but he demands alot of us at the same time. People give him a lot of flak because he speaks his mind. He’s very honest,” Kline said. “I’d rather be exhausted at the end of the day and know that I’ve grown as a person,” she said. “Even the worst days here are good. I wake up and I’m excited to come in.” Kline believes the stories Devlin tells through the company’s projects are important, and need to be told. “He (Devlin) wants to do films that promote morality, and contribute to society,” she said. ” They’re stories of heart, stories of growth.”
Brian Mittge covers municipal government for The Cronicle. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephoning 807-8237