Monday, July 14, 2014

Marshall story fascinates graduate filmmaker

My name is Katie Thompson and I am a graduate student in the Institute for Documentary Filmmaking at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. As part of our program, we were assigned a large project where we had to take a historical event with historical film footage – and on paper – produce a shooting script that detailed every shot and scene for a 5-minute film. This may sound easy, but I assure you it was not.

Most of my life growing up, I heard family stories about how my Uncle Billy was recruited to play football for Marshall University, but he chose not to go to college. Instead, he launched his own business, which later became quite successful. Had he gone to Marshall and played football, he would have been on the team in 1970, the year of the plane crash.

These types of “sliding door” moments have always fascinated me so I have never forgotten my uncle's story. Years later, the big blockbuster film We Are Marshall came out. As a result, Marshall University and the crash became known by a new generation. I couldn't believe the story I heard as a youngster was up on the big screen with Matthew McConaughey cast in the lead role.

The drama of the Hollywood film was striking, but as with any story, I knew there was more to it. I knew my uncle's experience was just a teeny-tiny fraction compared to those people who were directly or indirectly impacted by this horrible event. So, when we got the large-project assignment, I decided to dig deeper and find a smaller, tighter, more personal point of view for my project.

To my surprise, a friend sent me some information about author Craig Greenlee, who wrote November Ever After, a memoir about the crash and its aftermath. Craig so kindly agreed to be interviewed and shared his wealth of knowledge, insight and personal experience regarding Marshall and the crash.

It was wild for me to hear that he was on the team and decided not to play that year. Craig’s best friend was killed in the crash and he even joined the team the following year when the program was rebuilding. I was honored to hear his stories and I could have listened for hours! I think this event in history was obviously horrible and tragic, but I also think there were parts of it where the community came together, which is inspiring as well.

Barriers of race, personal differences, or conflicts were temporarily put aside. It was a much needed effort for the school and community to pull together in the wake of having to deal with so much loss. My project presents just a tiny piece of this huge story. On a personal level, researching this project proved to be an experience that was both eye-opening and amazing.

It’s my sincere hope that through this project, I can help continue sharing the story and the legacy of Marshall University in a positive way.