A local historical documentary on Helper will air Sunday, Oct. 8, at 4 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7. Titled "Helper: People Persistence & Promise," the film represents a factual account of Helper's history. A microcosm of America as a melting pot, Helper has been described as the Ellis Island of the West, a Gentile town founded on a rich and diverse cultural heritage.
The documentary was created and produced by six undergraduate students at the University of Utah as part of a visual media production class, under the direction of Professor Robert K. Avery.
The filmmakers included senior producer David Castleton, Amir Fernandez, Joe Hansen, Jared Mann, Stephanie Stinson and Linda Williams. The students were responsible for all aspects of the production, from library and archival research to program conceptualization, field production, transcription and scripting to final editing.
U of U communication professor Robert Avery introduced the film to a Helper audience on Sept. 16. "We feel like we are coming home," commented Avery. The professor indicated that he and the entire production crew had grown close with the citizens and the history of Helper.
The university students devoted the spring break to videotaping on location, using the Helper Western Mining and Railroad Museum as a studio. Fifteen historians and Helper residents were interviewed for the project. The interviewees' words narrate the film.
Both a railroad and mining community, the ethnic blend of Helper workers and merchants carved out a civic life that crosses racial, social, religious and cultural boundaries. "This is the story of Helper as told by those who lived it," pointed out Mann, whose proposal started the project.
Mann's interest in Helper began with visits to the local city as a child. The university student's interest was rekindled when a friend attended one of Helper's artist workshops.
An additional 25 hours of videotape was recorded in the U of U Department of Communication's television production facility and at various libraries, archives and museums in Salt Lake City.
It was the job of film producer Linda Williams to cut the footage down to slightly less than one hour for the KUED broadcast. After the screening in September, Williams voiced appreciation to the citizens of Helper for allowing her to "jump into their lives."
Since the project's completion, Williams has graduated and is currently the producer for KSL Television's morning news.
The project began this past January and logged thousands of hours of work before completion. Several key members of the project graduated and then returned to help finish the film.
The September screening was followed by an open public discussion led by Avery. During the open session, Helper citizens applauded the students and the University for putting the history of the town on film.
The Helper documentary marks the third time Avery's students have done similar projects.
The professor supervised documentaries featuring Immigration Canyon in 1999 and Moab in 2001.
"Helper has changed my mind about small towns. Since coming here, it has become one of my favorite places," concluded senior producer Castleton.
The Helper documentary premiered at the Rio Theater in September because the students wanted the people of Helper who made the learning experience possible to be the first to view the finished product. A reception concluded the evening, giving residents an opportunity to talk with the filmmakers, as well as Avery.
"Helper: People Persistence & Promise" airs Sunday, Oct. 8, at 4 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.