‘Our Town’ PBS special will focus on Smithfield

‘Our Town’ PBS special will focus on Smithfield

Documentary will share town stories, local landmarks

SMITHFIELD – Lights, camera, action – the town of Smithfield better get ready for its close up.

“We are proud to announce that by popular decision, Smithfield and Bristol are the next locations for ‘Our Town’ in the 2017 cycle,” said David W. Piccerelli, president of WSBE Rhode Island PBS in a press release.

“Our Town” is a community project wherein neighbors are the filmmakers and tell the stories of their community. PBS describes the project as “part fundraiser, part community builder, part historical and cultural documentary, and part ‘day-in-the-life’ video scrapbook.” The documentary will feature Smithfield’s local legends, historical happenings, and backyard secrets. The project aims to highlight untold or uncelebrated stories that capture the essence of the town.

“Our Town gives the community a platform to share stories and perspectives on the town in their own voices,” said Piccerelli in his announcement. “It’s also a meaningful way for us at the station to connect with our communities.”

The “Our Town” project is beginning its fourth cycle. The series began in December of 2014 featuring Glocester, followed by “Our Town: North Kingstown” in September of 2015, and “Our Town: Portsmouth” in December of 2015, and most recently, “Our Town: West Warwick” in September of 2016 and “Our Town: Westerly” in December of 2016.

Smithfield was chosen through a nominating process. Locals had the chance to vote for the town to be picked from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31.

Jodi Mesolella, the project director from PBS, said the station received votes from six different towns, but Smithfield came out as the clear leader, with the town of Bristol in second. To gain a better understanding of the town, producers and directors also read the comments submitted.

“It really comes down to us seeing the enthusiasm come out,” Mesolella said.

She said the most intriguing comments discussed local legends, like the “lost Hanton city” circa the 1600s, or the “Sullivan Ballou love letter.”

The documentary could also boost business for the town. Previous winners have had local restaurants host viewing parties and special events.

“It definitely puts a little buzz in the air,” Mesolella said.

The Greenville Public Library will also have a role to play in this process. It will be hosting planning meetings and technical workshops for residents who choose to participate as volunteers for the project. In each town, Rhode Island PBS recruits up to 20 to 25 volunteers with video cameras.

It may seem counterintuitive not to use professionals, but Mesolella said it is done with a purpose.

“The value to us is seeing someone’s story through their own eyes,” Mesolella said.

For this project, there are no restrictions as to age or experience and there is no cost or compensation to participate. For those with a story to tell but no camera to capture it, Rhode Island PBS has a camera to lend by appointment and with a security deposit.

The first planning meeting will be the week of March 6, with two opportunities for volunteer filmmakers to attend one technical workshop in the week of March 13 at the Greenville Public Library or the week of March 20 at Rhode Island PBS studios. Individuals must register online to attend the workshops. The deadline for all video submissions is May 5.

“It’s very exciting,” said Dorothy Swain, director of Greenville Public Library. “It’s going to allow people to tell their stories.”

For PBS producer Nicole Muri, what stood out in submission was Smithfield’s closeness.

“Everybody was talking about how Smithfield is a tight-knit community where friendships are family,” Muri said.