Bellows Falls Opera House recently had the honor of hosting a preview showing for the soon-to-be released and much-anticipated documentary film National Parks: America's Best Idea, created by Ken Burns and the folks at Florentine Films, which just so happens to be nestled locally in downtown Walpole, NH.
Renowned for their work on such documentaries as Baseball and The Civil War, Florentine Films is now recognized as arguably the most influential documentary film company in the history of the medium.
A veteran filmmaker of more than 30 years, Burns and the Florentine family have created some of the most memorable documentary films ever, including the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge, the Primetime Emmy Award-winning The War and Jazz.
One of these Florentine Film family member just so happens to be local film editor Craig Mellish, a North Walpole, NH resident and Fall Mountain Regional High School graduate who has worked at Florentine since 1996 and played a part in the aforementioned National Parks series. Mellish has had an interest in film from an early age. So how exactly did his affiliation with Florentine come about?
"At the time, I was in the film program at Keene State College and our supervising editor, Paul Barnes, was teaching an editing class," Mellish stated in a recent interview. "Before the first class the head of the film department asked if I wanted to be his teacher's assistant.
"Later in the semester Paul called and asked if I could help out at Florentine over the weekend as they were in a bit of a crunch getting the Thomas Jefferson film ready for a big screening. So I helped out that weekend, got an offer to be an intern a few days later and have been here ever since."
Other Florentine projects Mellish has worked on over the years include Lewis & Clark: The Journey Of The Corps Of Discovery and the aforementioned Jazz.
"What really stands out about that first Thomas Jefferson project was the amount of work that went into making one of these films, the general learning of new things and as compared to today, how much the technology has changed.
"Back then we were editing with film - literally cutting one piece and taping it to the next - and you had to keep track of every single frame of film. Some jobs that would at one time take all day, can now be performed by a few clicks of the mouse at the computer.
"The most interesting and challenging aspect of editing, for me, is trying to find the best way to tell the story, using images, words and music. Finding that perfect photograph or piece of music. Sometimes it's a lot of trial and error other times it an epiphany."
More recently Mellish had been working on the National Parks series, which is a history of America's beautiful parks and the people who help preserve them, as an editor on two episodes, The Last Refuge and The Morning Creation. He is also a co-producer of the series.
"I'm hoping that The National Parks series surprises a lot of people in the fact that I think many will tune in thinking they will see a travelogue of sorts, but it's nothing like that.
"This series is packed with as much emotional impact as any film that Ken has made," Mellish added.
"In making the films I think we were all surprised at how many great stories there were surrounding the formation of these parks. You have stories of great historical characters like John Muir & Theodore Roosevelt, you have stories of saving the bison from extinction inYellowstone and species of birds in the Everglades that where being slaughtered in great numbers.
"But you also have great stories of human interest such as a couple from Nebraska who spent their summers from the 1920's through the 1940's travelling to parks taking thousands of photos and writing journals, or the tale of several Japanese Americans who were interred in prison camps in Montana, Wyoming and Utah during World War II who were able to deal with their imprisonment by holding on to the memories of their love for places like Mount Rainier and Yosemite.
"Many think it is the government that sets aside places, but it also took tremendous efforts on the part of small groups and individuals to get the government to recognize the need to save these magnificent landscapes for future generations."
New projects that Mellish is currently working on include a continuation of the Baseball series and a project about Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Rooseevelt.
"Next up for me is editing a two-part addition to our 1994 series on Baseball. The two episodes tentatively titled "The 10th Inning" (top and bottom) will pick up in the early 1990's where the last one left off and brings us up to the present.
The shows will cover, among other things, the players strike in 1994, the influx of Latin and Asian players into Major League Baseball, the Yankees dynasty of the late 90's, steroids effect on the game and it's hallowed record book and of course the Boston Red Sox finally winning a World Series after 85 years of waiting.
"We also have a film on Prohibition in the works as well as a series on the Roosevelts: Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor."