Area filmmaker to debut work at international film festival

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sunday is still two days away, and for Matt Wittmer it can't come soon enough.

Wittmer, a documentary filmmaker from Cape Girardeau, will premiere his documentary short "The Regiment" Sunday at the prestigious Rhode Island International Film Festival. But before then, he'll spend his time trying to pack as many people as he can into the Providence theater where he'll screen his film.

For a filmmaker like Wittmer, the festival -- which specializes in documentary shorts -- is a paradise.

"There's so many films to see it's almost overwhelming," Wittmer said during a phone call Thursday. "And trying to get people to come to see yours is also a challenge."

"The Regiment" focuses on a group of Civil War re-enactors based in Providence. On the face of it, making a documentary about Civil War re-enactors might seem cliche, but Wittmer and his partner, Las Vegas news producer Bill Clarke, found a regiment that was far from the norm. They're teenagers, and they're all first- and second-generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

The pair found their regiment at one of the country's biggest Civil War re-enactments in Olustee, Fla.

"You found plenty of graybeards, a lot of southerners ... but what we found that we immediately latched onto was this group of Dominican teens," Wittmer said. "It was like 'Whoa, what the heck are they doing down here, and why are they into re-enacting?'"

Wittmer shot hours of video in Providence, the group's home base, and during a trip from Providence to Olustee. The 32-minute documentary tells their story and that of their leader, Rob Goldman, an experienced re-enactor who established the group.

Goldman recruited the teenagers from Providence high schools. While on the battlefield, they speak Spanish, Wittmer said.

"They just totally stood out, in a good way," Wittmer said.

Interviews with the teenagers revealed little about why they re-enact Civil War battles when they come from another country, Wittmer said, but their actions tell the story.

"They are into it for reasons as young people that they haven't really wrapped their heads around yet," Wittmer said.

Wittmer and Clarke hope to gain interest in the film to ease a pathway into other festivals and possible attract a distributor, which might result in the film being shown on PBS or used for educational needs. But being at the Rhode Island festival also has another advantage: It's a qualifying event for the Oscars.

Even if "The Regiment" doesn't make a splash, Wittmer said he's just happy his film was one of 321 films selected out of 2,500 entries to be shown in the biggest film festival in New England.

"Just to be selected is an honor."

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