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Heath Fair meets the silver screen

  • A new documentary tells the story of the Heath Fair, which began in 1916, and also focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts last year of the many volunteers who planned for the fair’s 100th anniversary. Contributed image

  • A new documentary tells the story of the Heath Fair, which began in 1916, and also focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts last year of the many volunteers who planned for the fair’s 100th anniversary. Contributed image

  • A new documentary tells the story of the Heath Fair, which began in 1916, and also focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts last year of the many volunteers who planned for the fair’s 100th anniversary. Contributed image

  • A new documentary tells the story of the Heath Fair, which began in 1916, and also focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts last year of the many volunteers who planned for the fair’s 100th anniversary. Contributed image



Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Over the past century, thousands of Franklin County residents have been to the Heath Fair. Now, they can see the movie.

Pothole Pictures, in collaboration with the Heath Agricultural Society, presents the world premiere of a documentary celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Heath Fair. The movie will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Hall, 51 Bridge St. in Shelburne Falls, and will be preceded by the ragtime piano music of Scott Joplin played by Dick Moulding at 7 p.m.

The movie was produced by Larry Sampson, a Heath resident and film production designer, who has designed sets for feature films, independent films and television commercials. He will attend the screening to discuss the making of the 50-minute documentary through a question-and-answer session. Admission is $6.

A small town story

The film tells the story of the Heath Fair, which began in 1916, and also focuses on the behind-the-scenes efforts last year of the many volunteers who planned for the fair’s 100th anniversary. The fair was held annually except for one year during World War II, when all such gatherings were forbidden because of polio, according to a chapter on the fair in “The Book of Heath.”

“We compiled a lot of stories and histories,” said Sampson, who was joined by two videographers, Ashli Bickford and Nate Reininga, who had been students in a film class Sampson taught at Emerson College.

Art Schwenger of Heath, the fair’s master of ceremonies since the late 1970s, helped set up interviews with some of the key players who help make the fair what it has become. Besides providing a kind of narrative of each day’s events, Schwenger is also the fair’s photographer.

Schwenger said he got his fair “job” when, as a new resident, he complimented emcee Bill Wolf for doing such a great job. Wolf asked Schwenger if he would like to be the emcee next year, and Schwenger said, “No, no, no.” But when next year’s program came out, Schwenger’s name was listed as emcee — and Schwenger didn’t have the heart to turn it down.

“I was caught,” Schwenger said. “I’m waiting for a person I can do that to.”

The fair has had a way of bringing the approximately 700 people in town — as well as visitors — together.

“The fair has always been a time when people could count on seeing their neighbors,” he continued. “In Heath, it was customary to go visiting neighbors on Sunday, but some people, from parts of town you didn’t normally see, would be at the fair.”

Among the fair stories is that of the “pie lady,” Theresa Peters, who has made thousands of pies for the fair over the years.

The film was paid for by an anonymous donation to the Dickinson Family Fund for Historical Heath. The original plan was to make the film in time for a showing at Heath’s 100th fair last year. However, the filmmakers decided it might be better to document the 100th fair and the work it took to put the fair together.

The second part of the film captures the fair’s vitality and charm. This will be the film’s first public screening; no future screenings have been planned yet.

Clips from the early stages of filming were shown at last year’s fair, and the movie’s raw footage will be kept by the Agricultural Society as part of its historical record.

This year’s Heath Fair will be held from Aug. 17 through 19 — one week after the screening.

A feast of films

Food is a big part of the Heath Fair, and Pothole Pictures’ season continues with food as a movie theme. On the weekend of Aug. 17 and 18, another documentary, “Evolution of Organic,” will be shown. The film’s director, Mark Kitchell, a San Francisco filmmaker with family in Ashfield, will be there for the Aug. 17 showing. This 2016 documentary is about the back-to-the-land movement of farming that rejects chemicals and made “organic” a mainstream idea.

Feature films that are part of this season’s movie “feast” will include: “Big Night” (Sept. 28 and 29); “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” Oct. 13 and 14; “Chocolat” (Nov. 2 and 3); “Babette’s Feast” (Nov. 15 and 16); “Julie and Julia” Dec. 7 and 8; “Ratatouille” (Dec. 21 and 22); and “The Lunchbox” (Jan. 4 and 5). All movies begin at 7:30 p.m., with live music at 7.

In addition, participating eateries in Shelburne Falls will have special promotions related to the films, and Pothole Pictures will offer free popcorn to film-goers who present receipts from participating restaurants.

But if you watch the movies and come away hungry, you’ll be able to find a cookbook of recipes inspired by the dishes served up in each of the films. Recipes include barbecued chicken inspired by the Heath Fair film, gazpacho inspired by “Evolution of Organic,” ratatouille from “Ratatouille” and blinis from “Babette’s Feast.” The recipes will be available at film screenings, local businesses and online at: shelburnefallsmemorialhall.org.

Staff reporter Diane Broncaccio has worked at the Greenfield Recorder since 1988. Her beat includes West County. She can be reached at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277.