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  • Writer's pictureKevin Huffman

"I Dreamed of Johnstown" wins top prize at Film Festival

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

Last year, after producing a lengthy series about a death row inmate, I needed a change. I wanted to direct something of my own - something without death. So, I decided to produce and direct a short film about how the third-fastest shrinking city in America works. A dying city! But it was the life of the city I was interested in capturing. I wanted to see the struggle of everyday life.

I went to college in Johnstown, PA for two years and was always struck by the fact that the city was once named the most geo-politically fragmented city in America. It stuck with me. Times have changed considerably since I lived there. The city has fallen on hard times -- blight, depression, a drug epidemic, an aging population - you name it, Johnstown has it.

But one thing the city has are dreamers and I wanted to capture how people in the city struggle to achieve these dreams. And I was determined to not make it nostalgic - not make it into a tone poem of decay. I made a few calls, met with the Mayor and others and got unfettered access to the city.

With the producing help of a close friend and Johnstown native, Lou Chiodo, we put together a small team and shot for 2 days in July 2017. Blake Horn was the DP and Avi Zev Weider was the sound recordist. Fritz Mayer was our local PA. Helen Stern shot additional material.

We filmed with the mayor, captured a city council meeting, rode with police and dropped into a needle exchange program. It was remarkable. We came away with wonderful footage and I imagined that I would cut a teaser to get the project in front of funders. We wanted to make a feature documentary (and still do).

Next, good friend Paul Rosen from Nitrous, Ltd, a post house, offered to help edit and post the film. He assigned an AE, Claire DelGrippo to cut the film. She had never edited a documentary, but I knew right away she was perfect for this. She had a great feel for the material. But once we started cutting we realized that it might be better to make a documentary short out of the material. We plunged ahead.

Another bonus was the contribution of guitarist George Byich. We filmed with George and it quickly became apparent that his performance footage could serve as a soundtrack. So we built the film around his performances. He also graciously offered to score the rest of the film. And his thoughts provide for a great ending.

The result is "I Dreamed of Johnstown," which just won the top prize at the Johnstown Film Festival. It was wonderful to screen the film in the city and the reaction was very positive. We took home the audience award, too.

Where this goes next, I don't know. Part of me wants to return to Johnstown and keep filming. Part of me wants to move on to another subject. We'll see.

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