Wilton film project gains traction

Posted on 07/30/2012

By JENNIFER BISSELL

“A distraught mother jumps through a window to save her son engulfed in flames,” the description reads. “A high school chemistry class explosion derails the life of a star student; an oil refinery worker survives a major blast and a racecar driver makes a miraculous comeback after being pulled from her fiery wreck.”

Trial by Fire: Lives Re-Forged, a film by a small production company in Wilton, will be showcased at two major exhibits by the International Documentary Association, qualifying it for Academy Award consideration.

Now in its 16th year, the exhibit, named DocuWeeks, has featured 25 films that have been nominated for an Academy Award and seven that have won an Oscar.

The film follows the lives of burn survivors and is an attempt to display their altered insights and views on the world after their recoveries.

“All of us have scars,” said Megan Smith-Harris, the film’s director and producer. “But most of us carry them in the inside and they have to wear them on the outside.”

The film, along with 10 others, will be shown Aug. 3 through Aug. 9 at the IFC Center in New York City and in Los Angeles afterward. DocuWeeks receives roughly 120 submissions to be included in the showcase every year.

Smith-Harris said she typically likes to make films about ideas people have preconceived notations about and explore them further. Before making Trial By Fire, she wrote documentaries on polygamy and child brides.

“If I can change the way [viewers] think,” she said. “Then I feel like I’ve been successful.”

Smith-Harris moved to Wilton 15 years ago from Canada after she met her husband, Bill Harris, the film’s executive producer. The film is Smith-Harris’s first independent feature and the first film the couple has worked on together. Harris is a former A&E Television Networks L.L.C. executive and an Emmy winner.

After working with her spouse for nearly three years on the project, Smith-Harris said she could host a seminar on the topic, but that right now the greatest challenge is simply finding funding.

Being included in the exhibit and getting the film up to the IDA’s standards has cost $25,000, Smith-Harris said. For a small production company, that’s a lot. So far they’ve raised only $5,000 on their Indiegogo Inc., fundraising website.

Looking for help in the community, the company has used students and volunteers to help produce the film, including volunteers through Women@Work Network L.L.C., based in Wilton. The company helps current and returning professional women find work that fits their current life stage, whether that means finding a part-time job while the kids are still young or returning to the corporate world full time after taking years off.

Usually the positions through Women@Work are paid, but in exchange for free labor, Smith-Harris said she taught four women from the program new skills to add to their resumes. Among a variety of tasks, the volunteers helped with press lists, typing the script and translating.

“I’m enormously grateful to them,” Smith-Harris said.

“We believe so strongly in the project,” she added. “It has to do with human bravery, courage and dignity. … We thought this was a necessary film to make.”