NORTH SMITHFIELD – After nearly a decade of work on his largest project to date, director Christian de Rezendes can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Since 2011, de Rezendes has been assembling a documentary dubbed Slatersville: America’s First Mill Village.
Originally envisioned as a single 90-minute film, de Rezendes decided in 2016 that he would need at least a two distinct segments to cover the 200-year village history.
And last year, after gathering thousands of images, personal letters and other artifacts, and conducting more than 100 interviews for the film over the years, the director announced that the tale of how the country’s first village came to be, would be best told in a series with six to nine episodes lasting 30 to 60 minutes.
Now, with a contract for the full series in place, the project has an end date: de Rezendes has signed an agreement with Rhode Island PBS with plans to run it in eight-episodes in fall of 2021.
“It’s very well planned out,” the director said of the series, sitting this week beside a wall covered in potential titles for each segment – from “The Power of Water,” to “Controlling No Man’s Land,” – in his home in North Smithfield.
de Rezendes notes that there’s still much work to do to get to the finish line, but thanks to a team that’s joined on to help with the project over the past year, he knows he’ll get there. They include researcher and local historian Gail Denomme, and production coordinator Pat Ferron.
“She’s helping with additional fundraising and grant writing,” de Rezendes said of Ferron.
Joey La Neve DeFrancesco – a writer with a background as historian – is helping to lay out the episodes.
“He is able to fill in blanks that I’m not thinking of,” de Rezendes said. “There’s so much detail that goes into each one of these pieces. I have to just step back.”
The project seems on track for a happy ending to an effort that – like so many things in 2020 – seemed far from certain in March. de Rezendes was in the process of holding “in-progress screenings” of the docu-series to build support for the project when COVID-19 halted gatherings.
But he adapted. When the virus cancelled events he’d scheduled throughout the year, de Rezendes took the screenings online, offering them for free on Vimeo. Since April he’s presented three additional segments from the series, including one through a Virtual Valley Talk in collaboration with the Museum of Work and Culture that was virtually attended, by more than 90 people.
Currently all of the segments – including two he screened prior to the pandemic – are available here. With run times of 15-45 minutes, the segments produced by Breaking Branches Pictures offer a preview of what is to come.
But with the docu-series now destined to become a complete package with a wider viewership, those segments will soon come down. This week, de Rezendes announced that the screenings will be available through Thursday, Oct. 15, when they’ll be removed from public view.
“These have always been considered works-in-progress and not the final product,” the director said. “Some of them are going to change pretty radically.”
de Rezendes got the official word from RI PBS in June that the series would premiere in fall of next year.
“We will self distribute on Amazon as well,” he said of the series.
He’ll still need funding for the final phase of his work. In July, he notes he received “a very generous donation,” from an anonymous source, as well as additional support from Blackstone Heritage Corridor, FLAD, Felicia Fund, Inc. and Marc Normand Gelinas Interior Design.
“The thing that I’ve learned on this project is you don’t get support from the places you expect it,” de Rezendes said.
Those who would like to help him get to the finish line can donate at https://www.gofundme.com/f/complete-slatersville-film-for-2021-premiere?fbclid=IwAR0d3O1RQ_PwgRStT5tTFOTzoseP6iHXqeJyS0IFZYFAXfcomukrx6qpDBk