Chance meeting: Aerial documentary is ‘story of friendship’
Two pilots, on their way home from EAA AirVenture, make an impromptu stop in an alfalfa field in Indiana. The dairy farmer who owns the field comes to investigate.
What happens next is a story of friendship that has lasted for a decade. It has evolved into Barnstorming, a 48-minute documentary. A Pitts and a Pietenpol play lead roles, but the filmmakers say the story really is about the people who are drawn together by the aircraft. “In this story, the airplanes are incidental,” says producer and writer Paul Glenshaw.
Incidental they may be, but the Pietenpol Air Camper built and flown by Frank Pavliga and Andrew King’s Pitts are front and center for much of the documentary.
When they realize that the off-airport landing was intentional and not accidental, the Dirksen family welcome the pilots and treat them like family. What’s more, they’re so excited by the arrival of the travelers in these small airplanes that they invite the visitors to return the next year. The pilots accept the invitation, and it becomes a yearly event for the entire community, whose members turn out with food, chairs, and fireworks to greet the aviators.
Glenshaw and producer/writer Bryan Reichhardt, who directed the film, say the title evokes the barnstorming era of the 1920s and 1930s, when pilots would land in a field, advertise the chance to fly, and take customers for rides.
Andrew King convinced the filmmakers that the fly-in would make a great subject. Reichhardt says he is drawn to stories about diverse communities that are brought together. “The fact this was home grown and no tickets were sold, it wasn’t like they said ‘we’ll put on an annual event,’” he says. They filmed the get-together a total of four days over two consecutive years.
There’s plenty of aerial footage as the pilots are shown traveling to the farm for the annual get-together, and performing for the townspeople when they arrive. The Dirksen children are seen enjoying their very first rides in small airplanes, and one of the sons declares he wants to learn to fly.
Co-Director of Photography Mark Betancort mounted a camera behind the main gear of a Piper Cub so that, in one scene, the viewer sees the Cub’s wheel touch down on a lush green grass runway and immediately become wet with dew. Betancort’s air-to-air work marked his first time in a small airplane, Glenshaw said. “He absolutely loved it,” he says. “We had an absolute ball shooting this.” The crew put in long hours, rising before dawn so that they could capture a sunrise Pitts aerobatic flight over the farm, for example.
Reichhardt and Betancort “did not come to this film with any of the preconceptions of what an aviation film might look like,” says Glenshaw. “They shot it with a completely fresh eye. I think a lot of people have responded to that in a positive way. We’ve gotten a lot of compliments from pilots who have said that’s just how it feels.”
Barnstorming debuted at AirVenture to an enthusiastic reception. Additional screenings are planned. The DVD is available for direct purchase; see the Web site for information.
August 27, 2009