LOWVILLE — The journey to the north country of the Lewis County Mennonites is being brought to the silver screen thanks to the work of documentary filmmaker Dawson Grau.
After years of research and planning, Mr. Grau is ready to premiere his film, “Simple Servants: The Story of the Lewis County Mennonites.”
This 45-minute film documents the story of the Lewis County Mennonites’ journey to America and their settlement in Northern New York.
“It is very exciting. The last couple of months were very busy. I was really excited. I got the trailer out last week,” Mr. Grau said. “I am very excited to get people’s reactions, especially because there are so many people there who know the history so well, and it means a lot to them. To be able to bring it back to Lowville and show it for the first time there, in front of people who know the history well and the people who don’t, and kind of see their reactions, is a really exciting experience.”
Mr. Grau said the inspiration for the film came from his parents’ Mennonite and Amish heritage and its ties to Lewis County. As a child, he visited his grandparents and was fascinated by the culture.
“So over the years, I have kind of become a little bit of an amateur historian on it, and I just wanted to do something that would give me the chance to learn even more about the culture and the background and find a way to present this to other people who are not from the area and know everything already,” Mr. Grau said.
One of the major things Mr. Grau wanted to accomplish with the film was to find a way to make the history accessible to the younger generation and to people who were outside the Mennonite community.
“I really thought one of the big goals of this was to find a way that people could learn about the history and kind of understand that Mennonites are a similar group with other Protestant groups,” Mr. Grau said, “and find out how they became part of all the churches we know more about and then understand the difference and the uniqueness of the Mennonite community.”
The message Mr. Grau wants people to take away from the film is how similar the Mennonite story is to a lot of Americans’ stories.
“In a way it is a different culture, but a similar experience of coming to America for religious freedom and for opportunities,” he said. “They have a lot of similarities of wanting to survive, provide for their families and have opportunities.”
Mr. Grau’s hope is that audience members will feel more connected to the group and can imagine themselves as a part of the experience of coming to America with the same goals and dreams.
Mr. Grau said he began making the film about four years ago, working with the Adirondack Mennonite Heritage Association to raise funds. Mr. Grau combed through the historical archives of the association, the Lewis County Historical Society, churches and national sources. Once the research was complete, it took him about three to four months to produce the film.
Mr. Grau worked with professional narrator Jerry Reed, who used to do farm reports in the area and is connected to Lewis County as well.
“He was really great, because I think he had a good sense of the area and the culture,” Mr. Grau said. “He was really fantastic.”
Mr. Grau also worked with folk and classical improvisational pianist Jacqueline Schwab on the score for the film. He saw several Ken Burns documentaries for which Ms. Schwab had done music that he enjoyed.
The score for the film is hymn-based, and they spoke often about what hymns fit the periods in the film.
“To get someone of her stature to do the music was very exciting,” Mr. Grau said. “It was really fun to kind of get a chance to go through all this music and try to create a soundtrack or score that really embodied the Mennonite experience.”
The community is invited to see the premiere of the film at the Lowville Town Hall Theater from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Those who attend not only will have a chance to ask Mr. Grau questions about the film, but will also be entertained with a concert by Ms. Schwab.
The event is sponsored by the Adirondack Mennonite Heritage Association and the Lewis County Historical Society.
Mr. Grau said the screening is free to the public, and he would like to see everyone in Lewis County attend. For those who are unable to attend the film, it will be available online in September.
Mr. Grau said the association is looking at options of additional screenings in Northern New York, and there is a section of the website to book screenings.
For more information on the film or the event, visit www.simpleservants.com.