The Day – A new documentary traces 10 years of the New London Talent Show

Of the recurring presentations on New London’s Garde Arts Center calendar, one of the most unlikely “hot ticket” events is perhaps the annual New London Talent Show. The title alone suggests little beyond the quaint gatherings of primary schools where parents dutifully cheer on a procession of beaming and/or embarrassed children as they play piano or manipulate puppets or sing or rap or dance.

In fact, as captured in ‘These People’, a new documentary from The Day, the New London Talent Show, with a decade of sold-out shows in the books, is on the surface a very similar proposition – just with greater talent. pool stretching across the southeastern part of the state.

And yet, “These People” demonstrates in a fluid and dramatic way how the series, founded by a small group of concerned citizens following the murder of Matthew Chew by six teenagers in 2010, has had and continues to have a profound effect. Dedicated to the idea that art heals and nurtures – and created with the belief that young people in the community needed more opportunity – the New London Talent Show has changed hundreds of lives, helped heal the torn community at its thematic core and sparked meaningful dialogue and awareness among youth and adults in dozens of cities and across a broad racial and cultural spectrum.

“Those People” will be presented Thursday at the Guard.

The film, produced by The Day in partnership with the New London Talent Show, was directed by the newspaper’s multimedia director, Peter Huoppi, and co-produced by Huoppi and Talent Show co-founder, Curtis Goodwin, who is also a man of local business and city councillor. The project also represents a bold partnership where a newspaper and a stand-alone entity collaborate to capture a story that probably couldn’t have been told otherwise.

The film’s title, “These People”, is a reference to the generic and racist term thrown around in the wake of Chew’s murder to describe and implicate the responsibility of an entire demographic group in New London. “Bored Thugs” was another slogan where the defendants – all convicted – came to represent, in the eyes of many, an entire culture.

Early reports of the murder and its aftermath sparked an inferno of hatred, division, anger, fear and confrontation on the streets and in social media meeting rooms.

Almost spontaneously, during one of these meetings at the Guard, the idea of ​​a talent competition at the scale of the city or even the region was born. The idea was that a show could bring together all types of people from diverse neighborhoods, ethnicities, and cultures with a collective goal that art and dreams can productively heal. Over the past decade, the show has proven to be a huge hit far beyond limelight and 10-capacity performances.

Over the past three-plus years, Huoppi and Goodwin have collaborated on the documentary as time and responsibility permit — with substantial assistance from Day staff writer Mike DiMauro and several long-time volunteers, partners, and supporters. Talent Show date and community, including co-founders Frank Colmenares, Susan Connolly and Anthony Nolan.

Dozens of former participants and community members were interviewed for the film. As representative examples of the show’s wide range of artists and artistic disciplines, “Those People” uses the stories of five young people – Todd Belcher, Erycka Ortiz, Marco Fabretti, Casey Flax and Ryan “SIP Supreme” Townshend – whose journeys to the stage helped them navigate their own disparate histories.

Their work and their interactions with each other as well as the people behind the scenes are presented in a way that demonstrates the experiences and opportunities presented to all talent over the years. As the film shows, “These People” has come to suggest that we ALL are “These People” – and, at the same time, none of us are.

Last week, Huoppi and Goodwin sat down for talks in one of the upstairs conference rooms in the Guard. The spring sun streamed through the windows as they discussed their possibly unlikely journey, and their comments reflected a modest sense of pride in the accomplishment as well as a greater sense of cautious optimism for the film and the community it captures.

How the documentary was born

Huopi: It was Curtis and Frank’s idea first, and it didn’t get pitched like “I” or “The Day” would. Frank just asked me if I knew how to do a documentary. I hadn’t done anything on this scale before, but (The Day) did a series of multi-part videos online that were about 30 minutes long. I gave Frank some general ideas, but then the wheels started spinning in my head, and I thought, wait, if this was going to happen, I wanted to do this, and I thought The Day was the good vessel to tell the story. But maybe Frank and Curtis had an ulterior motive all along.

Goodwin: For me, it was intentional (that they approached Huoppi) because in my opinion, the (inflammatory) words appeared in The Day It Happened for the first time. I wanted to change that narrative for The Day, for people of color, and for newspaper-reading communities — and show how we could do something intentional together.

The idea that it could be a community-driven thing with the media actually joining us – it was prevalent with us doing it. This partnership in itself is a kind of love story.

On how the film is representative of what New London has the potential to be and whether it is perhaps reflective of what is happening in the country as a whole

Goodwin: I think this story is so timely and timeless that it’s something that every community and every human being can identify with and connect with. I think the film could be released nationally and resonate.

Huopi: The story we have told here is that individual lives have been changed. I think anyone individually involved in participating – or if you have a friend who participated, or your children participated – would have a better opinion of New London if not, at least a different view.

A murder happened, and people tried to do good, and as a result, there were a lot of good stories. Many people have been through something difficult and the talent show has helped them. A few hundred people have been on that stage, and you extrapolate that and a lot more people have been changed. It’s awesome.

On whether “these people” are meeting or exceeding expectations

Goodwin: I think it’s better than I expected. It captures the essence of what I thought it might be. With the talent show, I never limited myself to thinking small. The whole process started with the idea that children of color in this community come from an environment where so many limitations are imposed on us. We don’t get the chance to aspire to be anything greater than what we can immediately see in our surroundings.

I think watching the movie definitely captures the spirit and it will continue to grow. Whether you’re talking to freshman, tenth, or fifth-year artists, the talent show is always at the center of the conversation, and it’s so great to see the different years of alums connecting through them. themselves, whether they are creating businesses or making music. . There is always this connection and this excitement.

Huopi: The idea was to produce something full-length and show it on the big screen. Story-wise, it’s really moving otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. We wanted to make people feel something.

Also, while The Day did some things well, I think some of our failures in original coverage contributed to a narrative that New Londoners are afraid of violence. Reality? People who look like me – a white man – are scared. Did the murder scare Curtis from walking around New London? No. The narrative was largely written by middle-class whites for middle-class whites, but it is not representative of the whole of New London. Part of the goal of this documentary was to tell the other side of the story, and I think we did that.

On the rules of journalism

Huopi: What Curtis was originally proposing was something that, according to the rules of journalism, we would have refused in the past, by which I mean a collaboration.

But I became aware of people of color and underserved communities and their relationships with the media. Producing this story under our normal rules wasn’t really going to work. For me, we had to talk ground rules and get Tim Dwyer (Editor of Day) to sign off on what we wanted to do.

Normally the subject of a story doesn’t have to read the story ahead of time, and now Curtis and a few other people were going to be part of that story from start to finish. They would see the work in progress and make comments and suggestions. And even though we didn’t anticipate many differences of opinion, I felt that ultimately The Day was going to reserve the right to make editorial decisions and Dwyer would be the final arbiter.

Goodwin: It was hard (to accept that). I took a week or two to really think about it. It was difficult because I had to entrust my right to have the last word on something that is bigger than me.

The vision behind creating this film was to bring to light a story that deserved the attention of the world. To go further, to repair the relationship with the media. Far too often, stories and images depicting people of color fall short. I felt compelled to build this bridge… to change the whole narrative of “those people” and “bored thugs”, and I also had to trust the media that was part of the narrative. This movie is about art and how it heals, and that partnership was another vital layer.

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