Thompson, Lewis Saw Rising Threat
Filmmaker Teo Zagar of Barnard may have discovered the perfect vehicle for examining the current state of the nation through the historical lens of his hometown’s most famous residents— the writers Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis.
Zagar, who also served five years in the Vermont House of Representatives, is beginning work on a 90-minute documentary film for Vermont Public Television. It will examine the response of the two writers to political events of the mid-1930s, resulting in Lewis’s most famous book.
That book, “It Can’t Happen Here,” was a warning that a Depression weakened America was in danger of slipping into a fascist dictatorship. The new film’s title will be “It Happened Here.”
Lewis’s book was written in 1935 and was, Zagar explained, influenced by Dorothy’s writing. The two writers had purchased what is now Twin Farms in 1928 and spent summers there until 1935. They separated in 1935, but Lewis gave the property to Thompson, who kept it until the 1950s.
Scenes of their home will be in part of the film, and Barnard residents will be asked to share memories of the couple.
According to Zagar, Dorothy Thompson’s fears were influenced by her own experience. In 1934, she had been expelled from Germany by Adolph Hitler after she had interviewed him and mocked his authoritarian ambitions.
The film, Zagar explains, is about “how these two icons of the 20th century raised the alarm when threats to a free press and civilized society appeared abroad and at home.
“It puts it in a modern context— how power corrupts and how democracy is still vulnerable and needs an active citizenry to survive.”
“Their stories are perhaps as relevant today as they were in their own time,” he added.
Zagar, producer and director of the planned film, lives off the grid in rural Barnard. A native of Slovenia, he has nearly 20 years of production experience. His first film was about the Slovenian war for independence and won top awards at the Northhampton Film Festival in 2003.
Other film experience includes time working with Ken Burns on “Horatio’s Drive.” He said he will use some of Burns’ techniques in “It Happened Here.”
The film is now in the early stages of financing. It’s expected to cost about $390,000. Grants and tax-deductible contributions and online “crowd-funding” will help to raise the funds.
Meanwhile, Zagar has been interviewing sources, including Thompson’s biographer this coming Saturday and her grandson next month.
He also said that notable journalists and political historians will be invited to appear in the film.
Public screenings will be available throughout Vermont and the film will be made available to Vermont schools.
Zagar feels the film will be timely.
“When circumstances are bad, people are willing to give up some of their freedom,” he told The Herald. “There are some parallels with what was happening in Europe in Dorothy Thompson’s time.”
Zagar may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions may be sent to BarnArts at P.O. Box 41 in Barnard.