Filmmaker’s documentary nominated for local Emmy
For teacher and independent filmmaker Sean Gaston, Monday’s Emmy Awards were not the “real” Emmys.
The truly important ones will come on Sept. 20 when he, his co-workers and his students from Fleetwood Area High School find out if their film, “Misa’s Fugue,” wins a local Emmy at the Mid-Atlantic awards ceremony.
“It’s nominated in the documentary category,” explained Gaston, an Ephrata graduate and resident. “It is also nominated in the writing category. Because our show aired locally on WFMZ, which is a station out of Allentown and Reading, we are nominated in the mid-Atlantic region, but they give out the same Emmy trophy.”
“Misa’s Fugue” is the story of Frank “Misa” Grunwald’s journey through Hitler’s inferno. Born on Sept. 30, 1932 in Czechoslovakia, Grunwald witnessed the arrival of German troops into Prague, where his father Kurt ran a medical practice. Grunwald narrates the film while Gaston makes ample use of photographs of pre-war Prague made by Grunwald’s father, along with stock footage of the camps. The film tells of Grunwald’s ordeals as he passes through the Theresienstadt ghetto, Auschwitz and death marches to other camps as the Nazi SS troops seek to evade the Allied forces and complete the Final Solution as the Third Reich falls.
Grunwald entered Auschwitz with his father, mother Vilma, brother John and grandmother Johana. Kurt and Frank were the only survivors.
The film ends with Grunwald reading a letter Vilma wrote to her husband as she accompanies John knowingly to their deaths. Grunwald and his father were the only ones to know the contents prior to the movie.
“The last 10 minutes are a litmus test to see if you have a soul,” Gaston warns.
Fugue is also an apt description of the film. Gaston’s TV and Film students did many of the tech and editing services not done by Gaston or a modicum of professionals hired for the film; however, most of the school’s department helped develop the theme.
“There is not one aspect of this film that was not touched in some way by high school students,” he said. “All of the music was played by high school students. The music was written by Justin Reinert, who had just graduated the year prior.”
Throughout the camp sequences, Grunwald’s personal experiences are illustrated by Fleetwood art students and the promotional posters were designed through a Fleetwood art class.
“These kids poured over the script to get inspiration. We had 36 or 37 pieces of artwork that were turned in for the movie,” Gaston related. “At least 30 ended up in the final cut of the film.
“There were ten faculty members that were involved,” he said. “The production spans six different departments in the school. There were over 200 current and former students who participated to some extent.
“The kids passed with flying colors,” Gaston said enthusiastically. “It was a huge ship &tstr; I just steered it”
The project began when Gaston heard Grunwald speak at a teaching conference in Indianapolis in 2010.
“I sat in the front row,” Gaston recalled. “Up to that point, I had seen maybe two dozen survivors speak. The thing that blew me away about Frank (was the photos.)
“I am very visual. I learn visually. Frank turned on his computer and he starts on his presentation,” Gaston said. “I could see all these slides he has and all these photos. He had hundreds and hundreds of photos. I didn’t have to imagine.”
“I was blown away by his story-telling abilities. I felt like my grandpop was in the room telling these stories. There were aspects of Frank’s stories that I had never known.”
“I don’t remember when it happened but sometime during his presentation, I started thinking someone needs to document this story,” he said. “The majority of the visuals were right there.
“I started thinking how I could involve (co-producer) Jen (Goss) and the history department. We can involve the English department with the scripting. The music department could score the film.
This was not to suggest the whole plan was conceived that night as the art department idea did not come until later Gaston said.
“When Frank was done talking, they opened up (the forum) for questions,” recalled Gaston. “My last question to him was ‘Do you want to make a movie?’”
That evening, Gaston told Grunwald his background, which includes graduating from Millersville with a degree in communications and a prior independent film project.
Persuaded, Grunwald replied that he did not want anyone to make a profit off it. He wanted the film made for education purposes.
“I said I think I can do that.”
While some professional services were needed, the project remained mostly an education project in both production and intended audience.
“We will make 500 copies,” Gaston recalled telling potential recruits. “We will send them to any school that wants a copy. We will send it to them for the cost of the shipping and handling.
“We’re over three thousand now and they are all over the world.”
When the finished product became available, Gaston nervously went to Grunwald’s home in Indianapolis to show him the results.
“When you have someone telling a story they’ve been reluctant to tell for 60 years, you don’t want to tarnish that legacy,” said Gaston.
“One of the top five coolest things about this experience was watching Frank watch this movie,” recalled Gaston. “I knew we had done our job.”
From the film’s premiere before students, parents and local officials in 2012, the film has gathered incredible momentum, culminating with the Emmy nominations.
It has truly been a life-changing experience and it is still going.”
Does he think he’ll win one or both?
“No,” he blurted out quickly. “I am just being realistic to the point where I don’t want to get my hopes up. We didn’t do this thing to win awards.”