Documentary By Connecticut Filmmaker Premiers This Month In Middletown & On CPTV

Published: June 09, 2015 at 12:00 am


MIDDLETOWN — Greater Middletown Chorale (GM Chorale) of Middletown announces a celebration of Flag Day with the world premiere screening of a documentary about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and music, entitled Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio. The film, by Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Karyl Evans and narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Meryl Streep, chronicles the creation of Letter from Italy, 1944 (LFI), which was presented to a standing-room-only audience by GMChorale in April 2013.

The screening of this documentary will begin at 3:30 pm, Sunday, June 14, at the MHS Performing Arts Center, 200 LaRosa Lane in Middletown. There is a suggested donation of $25. Reservations are not necessary, but tickets can be reserved by contacting www.gmchorale.org.

Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio will then premier on Connecticut Public Television (CPTV), Thursday, June 18, at 8 pm, as well. Letter from Italy, commissioned by the GMChorale, was made possible with the major support of the state DECD/Connecticut Office of the Arts. For more information on the program, visit www.CPTV.org.

Filmmaker Karyl Evans, currently a New Haven resident, graduated from Newtown High School in 1975. She is the daughter of Jean Dolloff Kreizinger of Newtown, and the late Harold Kreizinger, and is the owner of Karyl Evans Productions LLC. In a March 2014 interview with The Newtown Bee, Ms Evans, who has been the primary filmmaker for over 50 films of at least one-half hour in length, said, “I strongly believe that art elevates and heals our society, and that art makes for a fuller experience in life. [Making Letter From Italy, 1944] was inspirational to me.”

Grammy-nominated composer Sarah Meneely-Kyder and her sister, the noted poet Nancy Meneely, chose GMChorale, in 2010, to bring their music, based on their father’s poetry and war-time love letters to their mother, to the stage. The oratorio is the story of their father, Dr John Meneely, a medic with the 10th Mountain Division in WWII, who returned home with emotional wounds — now known as PTSD.

The Chorale commissioned the work, according to Artistic Director Joseph D’Eugenio in a GM Chorale press release, to “create something very new and very innovative,” blurring the lines between several genres — opera, choral music, and theater — thereby expanding its appeal to a larger audience.

“Karyl Evans was approached about the possibility of documenting the preparation and performance of the oratorio and expanding the message of Dr Meneely’s story, which is also the story of any soldier who goes to war and returns home to struggle with the effects of that experience. The film includes many interviews, including three with WWII veterans from the 10th Mountain Division.

The GMChorale-commissioned documentary expresses the Meneely sisters’ hope that writing this oratorio would honor their father’s life, as well as all who go to war and those who wait for them at home. Dr Meneely ultimately lost his struggle with PTSD, committing suicide 18 years after the war ended.

Ms Evans spent over a year editing the clips from the GM Chorale rehearsals and April 2013 performance, as well as 70-plus interviews, photographs, documents, and more.

“The biggest surprise,” Ms Evans told The Newtown Bee, Monday, June 8, “was that originally this documentary seemed like it would be about the making of the oratorio.” What it came to be, however, was more about Dr Meneely’s daughters’ recollections and their coming to terms with their father’s PTSD and suicide. “This was only through coming to know the sisters in this process,” Ms Evans said.

Initially, the filmmaker did not plan to include the oratorio’s scenes of Dr Meneely’s suicide, but, said Ms Evans, “that was the point at which you realized how high the stakes were. I had to show it in this film, as it came to be more about PTSD,” said Ms Evans.

Ms Meneely-Kyder and Ms Meneely were shown the documentary as Ms Evans finished the editing, and although they found the scene of their father’s death to be “really painful,” according to Ms Evans, neither wanted her to change a thing about the documentary.

Small focus groups held throughout the yearlong editing process helped Ms Evans make sure “I was getting it right,” she said.

The Premiere Gala, GMChorale’s major fundraiser, will follow the June 14 screening event, at 5:30 pm, at Wadsworth Mansion, 421 Wadsworth Street in Middletown. The public is invited to join the GMChorale and film celebrities as they gather to celebrate with food, drink, and song. Gala admission is $100 per person, and includes the screening of the film. Proceeds will help fund a future video of the actual oratorio performance. Visit www.gmchorale.org for information.

A screening of the documentary will take place Monday, September 21, at 4 pm, at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street in New Haven, and will include a panel discussion after the film with people connected with the film and with PTSD issues. Registration is not required.

Sponsors for this free event are the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine, Yale Veterans Association, and Yale Student Veterans Council. Meryl Streep and Sarah Meneely were classmates at Yale University. Ms Evans is a fellow there. 

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