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Harlem Veteran Project films featured at Beloit International Film Festival

Rockford Register Star - 2/16/2020

Feb. 15--ROCKFORD -- The stories of American war veterans often fade as the years pass, but young filmmakers from Harlem High School remain on a mission to preserve this important part of local history.

The Harlem Veteran Project -- a class at the high school that produces documentaries featuring war veterans from the Rock River Valley -- will show two films this year at the Beloit International Film Festival, which begins Friday.

"The Faces That Never Fade" and "Mr. Clarence" will be screened on Feb. 29 at La Casa Grande in downtown Beloit.

The class for juniors and seniors is taught by Nicholas Stange and Kyra Newnam. Each year, students are assigned one veteran to interview, and throughout the school year they must create a documentary between 15 and 45 minutes long featuring their vet's life and wartime experiences.

The students spend the year learning all the skills needed to create a quality film, such as editing, voice-overs, research and gathering b-roll footage.

"The goal is to get it to look like something that you would see on the History Channel," Stange said.

"The Faces That Never Fade," directed by former Harlem Veteran Project student Chandlor Ralston, is the story of Army Vietnam War veteran John Tuttle, 73, who lives in Oregon in Ogle County. Ralston originally completed the documentary his senior year in 2017 but wanted to remake it -- using skills he acquired after graduation -- to create a more-concise story.

"I got to the heart of the story, trimming out good stories but stuff that doesn't go to the central storyline that you want to show," Ralston said. "And so I trimmed it down from his childhood to just when he was enlisted through the war, coming home and then how coming home from the war impacted his life and how it's still affecting (him) today."

The film "Mr. Clarence," directed by Stange, centers on the final days of World War II U.S. Army veteran Clarence Williams. For health reasons, Williams wasn't able to be interviewed, but his family contributed stories and insights that made for a unique documentary.

"His daughter invited us to the hospice pinning ceremony," Stange said. "It's a ceremony that they do to honor vets. So that vast majority of the film revolves around that pinning ceremony with the people from hospice, from veterans as well as the family.

"This one is different than a lot of other projects, but I think it has a lot more of emotional touch to it. It's kind of highlighting a vet and their family getting closure on the last few days of his life."

Williams died April 18 at age 94 at his home in Rockford.

The class requires a lot of independent study, but also creates a close-knit group of former and current students.

"We're a big family," Ralston said. "Every student that goes through there. We're just so close because we're spending all the time together."

Shaquil Manigault; 815-987-1344; smanigault@rrstar.com; @RrstarShaquil

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