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  • Writer's pictureDennis

Stories as Big as Arizona

Updated: May 26, 2018

A few weeks ago I handed over my unfinished documentary, Voices of Vail. Someone else will be bringing it across the finish line. This was a truly difficult decision, but a necessary one. Working a full-time day job tends to get in the way of independent filmmaking. And "weekend warrioring" it for another few years is out of the question. It's time for it to be finished.

So maybe writing and sharing this post will be a cathartic exercise.

I've been working with Jerrie Jean "JJ" Lamb, the president of the Vail Preservation Society, on this project for nearly a decade. My neighbor introduced us when I was living in Vail. JJ is passionate about the community and was looking for someone to videotape homesteaders and descendants of those who settled the area, to get their stories on tape before they were lost to history. Of course, I had to go and suggest we do something much bigger. "How 'bout a full-blown documentary? Something like a Ken Burns kinda thing?" At that time, I still had my design and production business, so it was totally feasible. I could – and did – devote lots of time to it. 

In the summer of 2010, we started filming interviews with people who grew up in Vail, those who lived there back when it was "The Town Between the Tracks." Amazing stories, all of them. We got all but a few of the interviews recorded and I shot lots of additional footage (B-roll). I also created effects for some of the old historical photos we would use, a technique called 2.5D. It gives the photos a 3-dimensional look. Lots of time and energy went into the project and most of the content was there. But editing the project still remained, and it was daunting.

My life has gone through many changes since then and it became increasingly difficult to devote quality time to "Voices." A small grant JJ received stipulated the documentary was to be completed by spring of 2018, which was later extended to summer 2018. I wouldn't be able to deliver it in time. Not without quitting my job. It was time for some soul searching. It took about 3 or 4 months to finally come to the decision to let go of the reins. It had been in the back of my mind for much longer.

Voices of Vail is in good hands, though. It's with people who are passionate about the little town southeast of Tucson, and the people who have called it and the surrounding area home, or those who just stayed a spell before heading to somewhere else.


Will it be the same story I would tell as a filmmaker? Most likely not, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just different. But the wonderful stories told by the people who lived them, they will be there – stories as big as Arizona.

In my edit, the film starts with a simple acknowledgment: "To the People of Vail: Past, Present and Future." It's a dedication to all whose stories are waiting to be told, or are still being written. It's about community and the connections we have to our neighbors, the land, and our place in the story. I look forward to seeing a fresh new approach to what was started nearly a decade ago. Best wishes to all involved!

Voices of Vail is scheduled to premiere August 12, 2018 at the Fox Theater in Tucson.

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