NTCC students make most extensive film effort yet

film group

Photo Courtesy of Hudson Old, and the East Texas Journal.  Pictured from Left to Right: Victoria Matiz, Joel Reyes, Honors Director--Dr. Andrew Yox, Kaden Groda, Allen Herald, Hannah Goldblum, Luke McCraw, Halea Ledezma, Rev. Dan Hoke, Morgan Thrapp, Sam Pollan, Alison Majors, Demi Reyes, Garrett Phillips, Andrea Reyes, Aubrey Watkins, Monse Rivero, Michael Rodriguez, Raul Leija, Assistant Honors Director—Melody Mott, Michelle Calderon, Skylar Hodson.

By: Dr. Andrew Yox, Honors Director

The effort of the NTCC Webb Society and Honors Northeast to complete their twelfth feature-length film this summer involved a few novelties. To be sure, as with previous years, the group began from the ground up, fashioning a script from the research of primary sources, and focusing on a niche story from the Texas past.  But this was the first effort that turned over a significant degree of responsibility to non-honors students, particularly Allen Herald, and Hannah Goldblum, from Camp County who are aspiring film makers in their own right. This was the first effort that began with the research of a regional historian, Reverend Dan Hoke of Franklin County, rather than honors scholars. This was also the largest, most extensive film effort in NTCC history, involving over ten days of filming, mostly in three counties of Northeast Texas, but also in San Augustine, and Nacogdoches counties to the south. The patrons of Honors Northeast, and an already overworked NTCC administration allowed for the bulk of this to happen, channeling the highest non-institutional financial input ever, for a student film project.    Finally, the entire team was co-directed by two honors students, who are already hard-working members of the NTCC college staff, Michelle Calderon, and Monse Rivero.

student on bench in front of mural
Film Scholar, Luke McCraw sitting
in Nacogdoches by the character he
plays in the film, Texas empresorio,
Stephen F. Austin.

It was neither a class in cinema, nor a club activity, but an attempt of the honors program, and the Webb Society of individuals interested in Texas history to create a feature-length film from scratch.  The exercise, which is part honors indoctrination, and part, public service, has yielded results in the past thanks to the anomalous way the State of Texas encourages collegiate history projects.  The NTCC Webb Society, to which honors students in Texas history belong, is part of a larger state society that is the collegiate auxiliary of the Texas State Historical Association.  The NTCC Webb-Honors cinema teams, pursuing feature-length films on Texas legends, have racked up five Caldwell Awards over the years, as the best history projects produced by any collegiate or university group in the state, and three Webb Chapter Awards, a citation of excellence among two-year schools. They have also featured their film at the national level in panels of the National Collegiate Honors Council, eight times.  Once more this past summer, thanks to the input of the donors of Honors Northeast, and particularly Jerald and Mary Lou Mowery, and the Whatley Employee Enhancement Fund, the NTCC team tried their best. 

The story this year built on interesting themes first discerned by Reverend Dan Hoke, but then broadened by a research foray in early June to the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University.  Today Texas is known for its libertarian traditions, and overlap with the Southern Bible Belt.  But ironically, as the state was being formed by the confluence of Anglos and Hispanic settlers, the area was not only virtually devoid of religion, but hostile to evangelism.  Led by the lead empresario, Stephen F. Austin, Mexican Texas did nothing to encourage Catholicism, and actively opposed incoming ministers of the Protestant churches.  The first settlers incarcerated pioneer Baptist minister, Joseph Bays, forced Methodist firebrand Henry Stephenson to re-emigrate out of Texas, and intimidated pioneer preacher, William Stevenson.

students drinking coffee
Hannah Goldblum and Allen Herald at a Film
Meeting (Photo courtesy of Dr. Maryna Otero)

The NTCC film story will show how this situation was overturned, thanks to the courage of these lone preachers on horseback, who rather than being discouraged, returned to the state during the years of revolutionary tumult in Texas, 1834-36.  

Thanks to the donors of Honors Northeast, the troupe and crew were able to film this summer near the exact locations where the traveling preachers first entered Texas.  Efforts in Titus, Camp and Franklin counties came close to the original entry point of Reverend William Stevenson who first came to Texas in 1817.  The group also filmed in San Augustine County to the east of Nacogdoches by the Sabine estuary, which was another important entry point. On 9 August, the group reached the oldest Protestant church in Texas, McMahan’s Chapel, near the eastern edge of the state.  

The troupe and crew were in many ways energized and encouraged as never before.  “Reverend Dan” Hoke attended several film coffees and filming sites, galvanizing the actors, and congratulating the researchers.  Michelle Calderon and Monse Rivero were both personable, and upbeat champions of the effort to make the film unprecedented.  Their idealism alone was exceptional in the history of the seri es, and to this factor, this summer saw the addition of another powerful force.  Allen Herald from Camp County and Hannah Goldblum from South Africa made a truly unique difference this year in the filming.  Both met at Stephen F. Austin University, both are now engaged, and both are picking up needed courses this semester at NTCC. Herald, who aspires to be a film-maker, combined a passion for artistry with a gregarious charisma that was striking, and for the series, unprecedented. He impelled students above and beyond for some exceptional scenes.   Goldblum was more the artist, and the consultant, intervening at key moments such as in an early June effort to re-direct the entire script.   

group at picnic table
Having Lunch while Filming in Franklin County
over the Labor-Day Weekend.

The effort owed a debt of gratitude to Theatre Northeast, and Director Page Petrucka for their generous assistance in the realm of costumes.  Ann Finch Goodson sewed dresses, helped with costumes, and with the effort to thank those responsible for facilitating the film.  Her husband, Kenny Goodson, who has composed four complete film scores already for the NTCC film efforts, accompanied the group on the trip to McMahan’s Chapel.  Ironically, he was a former pastor there.  The members of the McMahan Chapel led by Sharron Mills went above and beyond in providing a meal for the ensemble.  The Northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum was unstinting in their generous allowance for filming on their premises. The Franklin County Historical Association permitted filming on several of their sites including the vintage dog-trot style Thruston House.  Carolyn Franks and Steven Nelms facilitated a day of productive filming at the Whatley Center.  Former Honors Coordinator, Andrea Reyes, again acted and brought in her two children, Demi and Erik Reyes, into the spotlight for key roles.

two girls filming
Filming in the Home of Publicity Director Halea
Ledezma in Mount Pleasant.

Honors Director, Dr. Andrew Yox notes: “the challenging nature of the yearly film experience serves, we believe, as a memorable extravaganza in learning. Students grasp in a rather dramatic and personal way, the fundamental values of research, the importance of the story format, the value of high-fidelity recall, and the fun of putting emotion into their acting. The degree of collegiate teamwork provides avenues for student leadership that we can observe, and later, describe. The exercise has provided a windfall of résumé citations for our students over the years. Beyond this, our excursions in niche cinema—filming the un-filmed legends of Texas—promotes a patriotism and a novel awareness for the distinctive aspects of our state.”

As with previous years, the NTCC group hopes to have a presentation on their film initiative for the Fall Meeting of the Walter Prescott Webb Society, meeting this year in Houston, and feature the premiere by March of 2024 at NTCC.