By Seth Butler
Teo Zagar, a former state representative from Barnard is taking on the film industry.
By Curt Peterson
Barnard filmmaker Teo Zagar is working on an epic project—a film documentary about Dorothy Thompson, her husband Sinclair Lewis, and Lewis’s 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Following the 2016 election, Zagar, then 38, read Sinclair Lewis’s book about a fictional rise of fascism in the U.S. Inspired by its prescience, Zagar began work on his film, “It Happened Here: Warnings to the West from Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis.”
Zagar, a former state representative, began shooting film a year ago. Content will include original and archival film, and actors reading dialogue of the characters.
After two years in, Zagar has reached the fundraising phase. The projected film budget is $535,000, which he said is “mid-range.”
“With less money we can still make a good film,” Zagar told the Mountain Times. “With the budgeted funds we can do a great job. And with more, we can add a lot of polish.”
The film will be made locally, but the people in his crew will come from outside the area – professionals with expertise not available here.
Zagar has already raised $50,000 from friends and family.
“The most likely source of new funding will be from organization grants,” he said. “But anyone interested in the topic or the project is encouraged to donate.”
The film tells the story of local Dorothy Thompson, a world-famous journalist and first woman to manage a foreign press office, who had been a “street activist” in the Suffrage Movement and was known as “America’s voice against fascism.”
She was expelled from Germany for condemning Nazism and warning the West about its malevolence. Many American politicians and businessmen were celebrating Hitler’s methods in rebuilding post World War I Germany.
Thompson and Lewis had purchased a farm in Barnard, now known as Twin Farms, where Thompson inspired and influenced Lewis to write his novel about a fictional president who becomes a dictator using fear and militarization to turn America into a fascist state.
The demagogue president foments fear, glorifies patriotism and traditional values, outlaws dissent, incarcerates his political enemies, conspires with corporate interests, and curtails women’s and minorities’ rights.
Doremus Jessop, a Vermont newspaper editor, openly challenges the authoritarian president, and Lewis’s story is Jessop’s experiences and travails fighting the plutocrat president.
Funding is needed for film editors, camera people, sound technicians, researchers, grant-writers and other professionals to support Zagar’s creative efforts. He hopes to complete the film in 2019.
His production company, Long Shot Productions, LLC, also has a site on the Indiegogo internet fundraising platform, and Zagar is working at other jobs to support himself and the project.
Zagar is an experienced independent filmmaker. As a student at Hampshire College he interned for Ken Burns when making “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip.”
Zagar’s own full-length documentary on Slovenia’s war for independence won an award, as did his “Mind Games: A Love Story”, which was shown on Vermont Public Television. He has also worked in production, editing and director roles in several other independent films, including “Major Arcana”, based on Ujon Tokarski’s return to small town Vermont (Barnard) and single-handed construction of a cabin in the woods.
Stories about independent movies shown at Sundance Film Festival making millions are notable because they are rare occurrences, Zagar said. “A filmmaker hopes to be compensated for his time, not for a miracle.”