EQUUS Film Festival Meadville Tour Stop is All About Community and Turning Tragedy into Triumph
The EQUUS Film Festival Tour Stop in Meadville, PA, April 19-22, gave you that nuzzling horse feeling of community. It reminded me of a herd of horses playfully romping around for the joy of being together.
Why do I say that? Because here in this semi-small often hidden town, the herd was the community, shops, people and students, too many to mention, but each giving what they could to ensure a successful Meadville Tour Stop.
It could have been the five local restaurants that provided food for the VIP Reception, or Wynken Blynken & Nod, one of the places where the EQUUS Film Festival Staff stayed. It was a Cata-bus to take the visitors around to learn about the amazing history of Meadville or the Park Ave Cinema, that closed its doors to everything else but kept it open for those wanting to see a host of horse and local films.
And it was even more than that; from a swag bag of gifts that included an array of goodies, all donated by local businesses to a morning breakfast, hosted at Tarot Bean Roasting House, from local bakeries Creative Crust, Confections of a Cake Lover and Save Room for Dessert. Then there was cool footwear from Boot Box and a host of Chinese Auction items. While mostly what was received were in-kind donations, there were also cash donations. It was the kind of support that makes you want to whinny!
If You Build It, They Will Come
A Look to the Future of Meadville
Yet it was still more than that. It was the mayor making time to take the Saturday morning tour with the guests. During that two-hour journey he shared the plan he has mapped out to allow this town to not just trot but to gallop into a new future of growth and fun for those living in Meadville. His goal is to bring it back to the 70s and 80s when this thriving community was the tool and dye capital of the world. Back then, the population, which now hovers around 8,000 to 11,000, numbered over 80,000.
It was the support of Sandy Porter, who was always ready to provide the history of the shops, the historical buildings and even the homes. It was watching organizer Heather Reichel busily attending to every detail and then listening to those around her praise the effort she put into making this weekend an amazing success.
Mayor H. Leroy Stearns Joins Guests
Tragedy Turned to Triumph
And just what is success. In this case it was community involvement. While it would have been great to see all the 210 seats in the theater filled for every movie, it was more than that because it was also about turning tragedy into triumph.
If you haven’t heard of The Hanging Barn story, this town had. It’s the kind of story that makes your heart ache while at the same time feel comfort in knowing that the revelation of this incident offered a better life for the horses involved. This is a true story about the 11 horses found in a barn in Strattanville, Clarion County, PA in May 2016. Six of the horses were hanging from rafters in slings and five secured in stalls with no food or water. The silver lining is that six of the horses were rehabilitated by volunteers of Bright Futures Farm equine charity of Cochranton, PA.
Thanks to Bright Futures Farm, the Meadville Tour Stop beneficiary, the word got out about the mistreatment of these horses. It’s a story you can read about. Simply type in “The Hanging Barn,” and you’ll discover the details of the story that truly brought the EQUUS Film Festival to Meadville and inspired the efforts of Heather Reichel, Bev Dee and Julianne Neal to approach the EQUUS Film Festival founder, Lisa Diersen, and Co-Director Diana De Rosa to ask if they could host a tour stop in Meadville.
For Dee it was all about saving the horses. “The Hanging Barn was, emotionally, the most difficult rescue I’ve ever done – and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. To see those horses hanging from the rafters was bad enough. To know there were laws in place that could have been enforced, and weren’t, was beyond comprehension. But the ultimate indignity was that the Clarion County Sheriff allowed Ralph Small to keep three horses after seeing, for himself, what he’d done to them.
“The horses from The Hanging Barn stretched us beyond our resources. Every donation truly does help us continue our efforts to rescue more horses in need and help us care for the dozen very senior residents that call Bright Futures Farm home.”
Reichel had been working with Neal on a series of movies known as the Spotlight Series, which Neal does in coordination with the EQUUS Film Festival. The goal is to spotlight any stories about horses being abused in hopes that this will help change laws and discourage others from mistreating horses.
The importance for Meadville was The Hanging Barn portion of the Spotlight Series and while it was a big part of why the EQUUS Film Festival was in town, Reichel’s vision went beyond that. Knowing that the town of Meadville needed more things to rally around, she had a vision of creating an event that would be fun for families to attend.
So, she mapped out four days of activities with the movies as the “entertainment.”
Spotlight Rescue Series
The Hanging Barn
The Edge was the Thursday Night Feature Film
This weekend was a combined EQUUS Film Festival-Meadville Film Festival event. The horse movies were shown on Thursday through Saturday, while the local films were featured on Sunday.
The kick-off event took place on Thursday evening, April 19, following a cross-promotion with the Green Shoppe for a chance to learn about using essential oils on animals and horses.
At 8:00, The Edge – Bruce Anderson Natural Humanship, produced by Julianne Neal and directed by James O’Connor and Dylan Quesnel, was the Thursday night feature film. It was sponsored by the Meadville Medical Center. This 2016 Environmental Awareness WINNIE Award winner gave the viewer a chance to witness the impact that horses have had on Anderson’s life and how he uses a 1000-pound animal to send the message that we are merely a steward of this earth.
What made this extra special was that after the movie, those attending had a chance to interact with Anderson about why he feels the horse is even more important today than it was 100 years ago. In that audience were people of all ages, from teenagers to those who have memories as far back as World War I. For over an hour they shared a communal conversation and walked away with the thought-provoking messages that Anderson shared.
The EQUUS Film Festival Meadville Tour Stop Kicks Off on Thursday NIght
The Edge - Bruce Anderson Natural Humanship
A Thank You from Julianne Neal and Bruce Anderson
“Bruce and I were honored by the welcome we received, from the hospitality shown by Kathy and Gary at Bethaven Inn, to the wide variety of people that we met at the screening of our film, The Edge, it was wonderful to see the support shown by the sponsors and merchants. I was amazed at the activities that Heather Reichel and her team were able to put in place in the downtown area and mall. Everyone was supportive and interested, not only in the films and the filmmakers, but also in the process of filmmaking.
“I was especially excited because of our Spotlight Rescue Series short film, The Hanging Barn, and the impact that the story had as we were developing the series. We’ve tried to balance the stories between those of abuse and neglect on the one hand, with stories of rescue and hope on the other. This film definitely has elements of both and it was really special to be here for the local premiere, where the story took place. Thanks to rescue organizations like Bright Futures Farm, we do have positive stories to tell,” Neal commented.
The following day, Friday, was an evening of 2017 EQUUS Film Festival WINNIE Award winning horse films. The evening also included a VIP ticket holder’s reception at the Park Avenue Cinema, where all the films were being shown. Food donated by sponsors and stimulating conversation showed just how excited those who attended were about adding this new annual event to their town activities
The VIP Welcoming Reception
Local Meadville Resident Hanna Mosbacher Shares Her Thoughts
Saturday was family day. Starting at 8:00 AM a historical VIP morning tour was a look behind the scenes and the perfect opportunity for guests to see what this small but unique town has to offer.
Local resident Hanna Mosbacher took the time to explain this portion of the event as follows:
“The day began with a gathering at the Tarot Bean coffee shop, and from there the group went on to visit the Market House. This building, located near the middle of downtown Meadville, offers a wide variety of local goods. The Market house was built in 1870 and continues to be the oldest farmers market in the entirety of the state. During the summer it draws its community by offering Second Saturdays, where local produce and crafts can be sold to the people who come to enjoy the day.
“The next stop was the Baldwin-Reynolds house, which was built in 1843 by United States Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin to be his second home. Today the house is preserved as a window to the past. Tours are given by passionate volunteers who provide historical facts about the lives of the former occupants. Within the past year new wallpaper was designed so that the house could remain in good condition but still give an accurate impression of style from the 1840s.
“Next came a visit to the Johnson Shaw Stereoscope Museum. Here a visitor can find an extensive collection of stereo views, lanternslides, historic documents, and other equipment all manufactured by the Keystone View Company, once the largest in the United States. The development of stereoscope is demonstrated with 3D displays complete with mannequins. One of them featured a woman sitting at a backlit desk, a paintbrush in hand ready to color some of the black and white slides in front of her.
“The tour concluded with a visit to Four Seasons Equestrian Arts Center. The owner and her employees offer lessons to students of different ages and skill levels. The barn is home to about 33 horses as well as two long horned cattle, which are housed in a shed next to the barn. In one of the outdoor training corrals the group also got the chance to see the three-week-old filly, Luna (first to be born at the center), romping with her mother.”
The VIP Tour Around Meadville
More about the Saturday Activities
The family activities began at 10:00 with free films for children until noon. After that a host of other films continued until 10:00 PM. One of the 13 films shown was The Wild Ponies of Chincoteague. Filmmaker Kurt Kolaja was in attendance and shared his thoughts about the compelling message this movie brought and how they incorporated the story of Sabrina, whose opportunity to purchase a Chincoteague pony literally saved her life.
While there were many wonderful stories that Kolaja told about the “trials and tribulations” of producing this film, it was the message that he ended with that brought silence to the audience because of its impact. Kolaja focused on the time and effort that he and so many others have donated to create wonderful films. While many realize there will never be financial gain, what they do ask is for people to take the time to come and see their films and support their efforts.
“I would encourage your audience to attend this and every film festival that they can. Get out of the chair. There are people out there who have made these films that are not going to get a major release. Go sit in a theater. Cheer these people on. You will be immersed in a dark room with a lot of people, or maybe ten people. You will laugh and cry with folks you may not even know. TV cannot deliver the same experience. I encourage people to get up and go to see the films. Here in Meadville it is unique how the town has gotten behind this,” commented Kolaja.
Kurt Kolaja Being Interviewed
An Interview with Filmmaker Kurt Kolaja
Fun Around Town
While the films were the nucleus of this weekend event, a host of other activities were built around that theme. Throughout the day families headed over to the Mall to enjoy art projects and exhibits, pictures in front of the Step & Repeat, and storytelling with Julianne Neal. The Marley Project Literary Roundup was hosted by Neal, who introduced her new kid’s book about The Marley Project, Inc., a South Carolina based 501c3 dedicated to equine awareness and education using Natural Humanship.
A variety of craft and jewelry vendors offered the opportunity to buy local souvenirs and gifts to take home. There was also a visit by Fraggles, the Miniature Horse owned by Brooke Stafford of 4-B Acres, who patiently stood while kids of all ages had their pictures taken. Face painting was done by 829 Hair Studio, which has their storefront in the downtown mall.
In addition to the 200 plus families that were enjoying kids’ day in the mall, there was also a Chinese Auction at the theater and an opportunity to walk around town to view what the Chestnut Street stores had to offer.
Saturday Was A Fun Day
Live Streaming and Video Interviews
Throughout the day, while the clip clopping was happening around town, Hovis Interior furniture shop donated space so that Reichel and her partner Heather Curtis, along with Allegheny College journalism majors, Brian Hill and Matthew Steinberg, could interview some of the guests and showcase those interviews live on facebook. It was a rare opportunity and the first time a tour stop has featured extended profiles. The wealth of knowledge that these people shared was a great way to allow the story to unfold through the lens of the camera.
It began with Diersen talking about the birth of the EQUUS Film Festival and why this film festival is so important to the many filmmakers who enter each year. Others included Kolaja and his experiences directing his movies. Anderson delved into the value of learning to live in the moment and to love oneself with the use of the horse. Neal focused on her story of filmmaking and talked more about the making of the Spotlight Series. De Rosa revealed her background of covering eight Olympic Games, traveling the world on and off horseback, running a riding school, being editor of a horse magazine and so much more. That led her to the story of how she came to work with Diersen as Co-Director of the EQUUS Film Festival.
These interviews can be seen at the Ember Tide Productions YouTube page.
The EQUUS Film Festival Message
Overall, one of the key messages that everyone was bringing in their interviews was that the EQUUS Film Festival provides a platform for the many films that devoted filmmakers have made. Films that may never have seen the light of day or been shared around the nation and the world.
While the EQUUS Film Festival and all horse focused films ended on Saturday, Sunday became Meadville day, with films done by local filmmakers and sponsored by Acutec Precision Aerospace. Among the films being shown was the repeat of The Hanging Barn, because it was the Holy Grail that was instrumental in bringing the EQUUS Film Festival to Meadville.
The weekend event was unique for so many people and especially for Mosbacher, who had this to say.
“I found the event inspiring; it was so good to see how different parts of the community contributed to make the festival possible. I loved seeing my hometown through the eyes of people who had never been there, as well as experience parts of it that I had before. EQUUS is spreading an important message; it is vital that people pay attention to what they are saying. The films that played over the duration of the weekend were made by hardworking people, and I know that the people who came were glad to be a part of it.”
And there you have it. Thanks to the EQUUS Film Festival films and the hard work of the dedicated staff and volunteers in Meadville, headed by Heather Reichel, this Tour Stop was an overwhelming success. Listening to the many stories, watching the films sharing hidden treasures, visiting the stores around town and networking with the local folk made this event extra special.
In closing, it is Reichel’s and Diersen’s comments that speak volumes.
“I am very proud and humbled by how the town rallied to make this idea a reality. Whenever I had a wish, I just needed to walk down the street and ask the local merchants and they pulled it together. I want to thank the EQUUS Film Festival for giving Meadville the opportunity to be a tour stop host and also for believing in us enough to come back. It truly does take a town to raise a film festival and as this one grows it is going to be something quite special,” Reichel said.
“I would like to first and foremost say thank you to the city of Meadville PA for their warm welcome and community support. I'm amazed at the way this small community pulled together to help Heather Reichel make the weekend a success. It takes a village to organize an event like this and they should be very proud of how well they did.
“We love doing the tour stops to support the efforts of local equine rescues who are saving horses one soul at a time. When I found out about the awful situation with the Hanging Barn horses, I knew that this is a place that we could highlight through our Spotlight Rescue Series and with a Tour Stop. Bright Futures Farm did an amazing job saving the surviving horses and placing them into wonderful homes and to that we say thank you,” concluded Diersen.
While it was the true tale of those 11 horses that brought the EQUUS Film Festival to Meadville, it is the community spirit that has inspired Diersen and De Rosa to want to support and continue this as an annual event. So, mark your calendar now for April 11-14, 2019, the weekend before Easter. For more information visit the Meadville tour stop page at www.equusfilmfestival.net.