James Family Documentary Film Project is underway

It took three generations to create a family legacy. It’s only taken months to begin telling that story in film.

The James Children: (l to r front) Harry, Harriet (l to r back) Helen, Fritz, Willis, Bertha
The James Children:
(l to r front) Harry, Harriet
(l to r back) Helen, Fritz, Willis, Bertha

It has been a very busy fall (2015) for the documentary film project “For Dear Mother’s Sake: The James Family Letters that Shaped Ann Petry.”

Liz Petry and her cousins Ashley James and Kathryn Golden have been hard at work with volunteers and experts, coordinating the planning phase and continuing the research into the incredible family history of the Petrys. Among the many aspects of planning a documentary film, they have:

Professor Walter Woodward
Professor Walter Woodward

  • convened a gathering of scholars, including professors Walter Woodward, Farah Griffin, and Diane Isaacs, at the Old Saybrook Historical Society that explored how the James family, especially the women, fit into the political landscape in the years following the Civil War and how Ann Petry’s upbringing in a nearly all-white village shaped her life and art.
  • conducted on-screen interviews with people close to the family: Garth Meadows, who operated James’ Pharmacy during the 1980s; former First Selectman Barbara Maynard, a long-time friend and fan of the family; and Raven Wilkinson, the first African American ballerina, who began spending summers in the family’s summer cottage in the mid-1930s.
    Professor Farah Griffin
    Professor Farah Griffin
  • photographed many of the original letters written by the James family, which Liz donated to the Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • photographed artifacts and ephemera that are in the hands of a private collector.
  • filmed location shots along the Connecticut River Valley that will provide background.
  • through the end of January 2016, raised $3,000 in donations.
  • secured and restored a cassette tape of an interview that Garth’s wife recorded in 1975 with Anna Louise James.
  • transcribed the meeting of scholars.

There is a great deal of work that goes into a documentary film before the public sees the final piece. Liz, Ashley and Kathryn – with their supporters, volunteers, and experts – are continuing with the research and here’s what’s next:

Professor Diane Isaacs
Professor Diane Isaacs
  • determine what issues and themes are to be addressed based on the scholars’ responses to the meeting transcript.
  • promote the film at various venues – to date, discussions are being held at the Hartford Public Library, February 16; the Wasch Center at Wesleyan University, March 16; and the Essex Meadows’ Arts and Exploration series, August 21.
  • create a website: jamesfamilyletters.com.
  • conduct further interviews with people in Old Saybrook and elsewhere who knew the family.
  • explore opportunities to film more location shots in Connecticut and other places where the family lived and worked.
  • organize film footage to prepare a five- to seven-minute sample of the film.
  • plan additional fundraising to produce the sample.

Liz, Ashley and Kathryn are thankful for the many individuals and businesses who have supported this important documentary film project. They look forward to your joining them in producing this groundbreaking documentary!

The James Family and the Community Foundation of Middlesex County gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the CoCT Humanitiesnnecticut Humanities. CLICK HERE to read how a grant from Connecticut Humanities helped launch the planning process for the documentary.

The Community Foundation of Middlesex County is honored to act as the project fiscal sponsor for the James Family Documentary Film. You, too, can get involved and support this important film – CLICK HERE to read more about the James Family Documentary Project Fund and to make a donation.


Scholars’ photos courtesy of Searchlight Films

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