Kids teach history through new film ‘The Princes of Deerfield,’ featured at DinoFest

Members of the Piti Theatre Youth Troupe join Artistic Director Jonathan Mirin (center) to take a bow at the Greenfield Public Library following the premiere of “The Princes of Deerfield” during DinoFest on Saturday.

Members of the Piti Theatre Youth Troupe join Artistic Director Jonathan Mirin (center) to take a bow at the Greenfield Public Library following the premiere of “The Princes of Deerfield” during DinoFest on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Geologist Paul Tanner explains early Jurassic life in Greenfield with stone slabs bearing dinosaur footprints and other artifacts during the seventh annual DinoFest on Saturday.

Geologist Paul Tanner explains early Jurassic life in Greenfield with stone slabs bearing dinosaur footprints and other artifacts during the seventh annual DinoFest on Saturday. Contributed Photo/Susan Kooperstein

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 12-17-2023 1:37 PM

GREENFIELD — Young people spent the weekend connecting with local history during the seventh annual DinoFest.

“We are traveling throughout time,” said Piti Theatre Co. Artistic Director Jonathan Mirin, who organizes the event each year in collaboration with the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in Deerfield. “It is all interesting.”

DinoFest, featuring annual programming centered around local history, began as a celebration of Dexter Marsh, who was laying stones across from the current Greenfield City Hall in 1835 when he discovered a set of unusual tracks or impressions. We now know that these tracks were dinosaur footprints.

Marsh continued to discover more and more prints around the Connecticut River Valley. Today, these discoveries are considered some of the earliest works in paleontology.

The festival has since expanded to celebrate other important people from throughout history who made their name in the Pioneer Valley. Mirin explained that being an abolitionist, Marsh would have known about the main figure in the new film “The Princes of Deerfield,” which was given a preview at the Greenfield Public Library on Saturday.

“This universe gives us creative license to tell other creative stories,” Mirin said.

The film, made in collaboration with the Northfield 350th anniversary celebration, starts with children hosting a meeting in Northfield’s Dickinson Memorial Library in hopes of telling stories of the history of their town. It then transitions to a world of children in the late 1700s with a story of how they were influenced by Deerfield residents Abijah Prince and Lucy Terry Prince, known as the first published Black poet. The film blends documentary, archival photos and filmed actors to keep the audience engaged throughout the 48-minute run time.

The Northfield scene features Northfield children as actors. One actor, Caeden Davidson, 11, said he had never been in a film before but he hopes to be in another if he gets the chance.

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“I liked learning the history,” he said.

Many of the children featured in the film have been part of the Piti Theatre ensemble for years, including 14-year-olds Nola Grignaffini of Shelburne Falls and Sofia Mason of Heath. They both said they enjoy being part of the program because of the education and sense of community that comes from the work.

“There isn’t another way we would learn about this history,” Nola said. “We get to learn about it while we teach others.”

“There are a lot of wins with this work,” Mirin said. “The kids get to perform and act like they would in any play or movie. They are also getting exposed to local history. It is a little antidote to the general trend of a kid living in an anonymous place with chain stores. It works to preserve the distinct rural character of this area, which is something a lot of people are doing in different ways.”

This is Piti Theatre’s fourth film, and the third centering on local history. The theater company’s other films tell the story of Marsh; a Greenfield-based Black entrepreneur John Putnam; and a silly story about the mayor of a fictional town called Greenpants.

The long-term goal is to have these films be a resource for teachers to play in their classrooms. Mirin believes children can learn from watching other kids, and he hopes the movies are interesting and informative enough to be a valuable resource for schools in Franklin County and the larger New England area.

Starting next week, the preview version of “The Princes of Deerfield” will be available at ptco.org/yourtown.

Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.