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Up Close with Jason Allard, Director of Woonsocket HS Documentary

Saturday, February 22, 2014

 

Check out Jason Allard's documentary 'My Old School' when it premieres on RI PBS Thursday, March 6 at 9:30 p.m.

My Old School, the documentary tracing the history of the largest abandoned school in New England, will premiere on Rhode Island PBS Thursday, March 6 at 9:30 p.m. The historic building, constructed in 1914, housed thousands of students over the years as Woonsocket High School, then as Woonsocket Middle School. After the school closed in 2009, Director Jason Allard and Executive Producer Scott Gabrielson sought to preserve memories of the old school they had both attended.

GoLocal spoke to Allard, a recent graduate of the University of Rhode Island (class of 2012), to learn about how the project came about; how the story of Woonsocket Middle/High School reflects on the rest of Rhode Island and the country as whole; and what he hopes viewers take away from watching the film.

An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Jason Allard

What was the inspiration behind My Old School?

My Old School began as a small project with my friend and executive producer, Scott Gabrielson. We originally wanted to document the building itself – just the architecture and how it was left abandoned. We both attended the school, so we already had a connection to it. Then former students and teachers started contacting us from as far back as the class of ’38. This old school really had history, and when the stories started coming in about the memories, the wars, the cultural changes, we felt we had to preserve those things. It was really inspiring to hear how much happened within those walls, and to hear people remember the school so fondly.

What was your reaction when you found out that PBS wanted to air your documentary?

Having a documentary air on PBS is a filmmaker’s dream come true. Since I was contacted the first week of January it made for a nice start to the New Year. Rhode Island PBS has such an impressive track record with local and national directors, so to be able to share My Old School with their audience is a great honor.

How were you able to produce the film on such a small budget?

Most of our filming equipment is gathered from past independent projects. It is a combination of old mics, studio lights, and a camera I bought after working a semester in college at a coffee shop. What we didn’t have, we created ourselves. I wanted something to capture the long hallways of the school and evoke a ghost-like feeling. To accomplish that, I ended up welding together a custom dolly from yard sale bicycles and steel rods in my basement. But that’s what made the whole project so fun – we didn’t have a huge budget so we had to get creative.

What surprised you the most when researching the film?

I was most surprised when we were talking with former students about huge historical events that happened while they were in school. Every generation has that defining moment that’s just stuck in their minds. For me, it’s 9/11. I’ll always remember sitting in class hearing the news. When you watch the film, you’ll hear former students talk about JFK the same way my generation speaks about 9/11. They remember exactly what class they were in and what they were doing when they heard the news. I was surprised that despite enduring so many other things in their lives, there’s always that one defining moment that every generation goes back to.

How does the story of Woonsocket Middle/High School reflect on RI and the rest of the country as whole?

When we began to spread the word about My Old School, I had people tell me they didn’t go to the school so they weren’t interested. I told them that this film isn’t just for the alumni of Woonsocket Middle/High School because the stories go beyond the school itself. It’s about growing up – every school had classes, sports and pranks. It’s really a nostalgic look back at any American school. This is a film that everyone can relate to – we just have it set to the backdrop of the largest abandoned school in New England.

What do you hope viewers take away from the film?

I hope viewers can watch this film and gain a new appreciation for the history that abandoned sites contain. Maybe it will inspire people to take the steps necessary to preserve these places, whether directly, or through film, print or photography. Based on the reaction we’ve had from My Old School it’s clear that these places are extremely important to communities. During this project we discovered so many untold stories, and it’s sad driving past vacant sites knowing what they once were. Ultimately, I think when the end credits roll viewers will be feeling nostalgic, hopeful, and curious about the future of places such as the old school.

 

Watch My Old School on RI PBS on Thursday, March 6 at 9:30 p.m. For more information about the film and to view the trailer, click here.

 

Related Slideshow: 25 Movies Filmed in Rhode Island

Prev Next

Moonrise Kingdom

2012

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray Frances McDormand

This Oscar nominated film features many local landmarks including Fort Wetherill State Park, Bayfield Farm, and the Conanicut Lighthouse.

Prev Next

Mr. North

1988

Director: Danny Huston

Cast: Anthony Edwards, Robert Mitchum, Lauren Bacall

Shot in Newport, this comedy-drama features Anthony Edwards as a con man attempting to break into the 1920s Newport social scene. 

Prev Next

There's Something About Mary

1998

Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Ben Stiller

Filmed partly in Providence, this movie was the highest-grossing comedy in 1998. 

Prev Next

Federal Hill

1994

Director: Michael Corrente

Cast: Nicholas Turturro, Anthony DeSando, Libby Langdon

Set in Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood, the movie marks the directorial debut of Pawtucket native Michael Corrente.

Prev Next

Age of Innocence

1993

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

This Oscar winning drama was partly filmed in Portsmouth.  

Prev Next

True Lies

1994

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold

The ballroom scenes in the movie were filmed at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport.

Prev Next

High Society

1956

Director: Charles Walters

Cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra

Nominated for two Academy Awards, the movie's opening shot features a flyover of Newport’s oceanfront mansions. 

Prev Next

Thirteen Days

2000

Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp

This docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis was partly shot in Newport. 

Prev Next

Little Children

2006

Director: Todd Field

Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley

Shot partly in Providence, this critically acclaimed drama received three Academy Award nominations, including a Best Lead Actress nod for Kate Winslet.

Prev Next

RIPD

2013

Director: Peter M. Lenkov

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon

A car chase for this action-comedy was filmed in downtown Providence. 

Prev Next

Amistad

1997

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Dijimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey

Shot at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport and the State House in Providence, this drama received four Academy Award nominations in 1998. 

Prev Next

Outside Providence

1999

Director: Michael Corrente

Cast: Shawn Hatosy, Amy Smart, Alec Baldwin

Filmed in multiple locations throughout Rhode Island, this movie is an adaptation of Peter Farrelly's 1988 novel of the same name.

Prev Next

Me, Myself & Irene

2000

Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Renée Zellweger. Chris Cooper, Robert Forster, Richard Jenkins

Filmed in Newport, Narragansett, Jamestown, and Galilee, this comedy centers on a Rhode Island State Trooper played by Jim Carrey. 

Prev Next

Evening

2007

Director: Lajos Koltai

Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Meryl Streep

The film was primarily set in Newport and included large portions shot at Gooseberry Beach.

Prev Next

The Great Gatsby

1974

Director: Jack Clayton

Cast: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern

This Academy Award-winning drama was filmed in Newport at the Rosecliff Mansion on Bellevue Ave.

Prev Next

Self Storage

2013

Director: Tom DeNucci

Cast: Eric Roberts, Jonathan Silverman, Michael Berryman, Tom DeNucci

Filmed in a self storage facility in East Greenwich, this horror-comedy marks the directorial debut of Cranston native Tom DeNucci. 

Prev Next

27 Dresses

2008

Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Åkerman, Ed Burns

Shot throughout Rhode Island, locations included the Rosecliff and Marble House mansions in Newport and a beach in Charlestown. 

Prev Next

Dan in Real Life

2007

Director: Anne Fletcher

Cast: Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill

Filmed primarily in Jamestown, the movie also features the Point Judith Lighthouse in Narragansett.

Prev Next

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

2009

Director: Lasse Hallström

Cast: Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Jason Alexander

Filmed primarily in Bristol and Woonsocket, other locations included the Columbus Theater in Providence and the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. 

Prev Next

The Education of Charlie Banks

2007

Director: Fred Durst

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Eva Amurri

Shot partially in Brown University in Providence, the movie marks the directorial debut of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst.

Prev Next

Meet Joe Black

1998

Director: Martin Brest

Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani

Warwick's Aldrich Mansion served as the residence of Anthony Hopkins' character in the film. 

Prev Next

Reversal of Fortune

1990

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Ron Silver

Jeremy Irons took home the Oscar for Best Actor for this drama, which was partly shot in Newport.

Prev Next

Underdog

2007

Director: Frederik Du Chau

Cast: Jason Lee, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Warburton, Amy Adams

Shot entirely in Rhode Island, filming locations included Hope High School on the East Side of Providence.

Prev Next

Tanner Hall

2009

Directors: Francesca Gregorini, Tatiana von Furstenberg

Cast: Rooney Mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson

Shot in Providence and Newport, the film marks the the directorial debut of Brown University graduates Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg.

Prev Next

Dumb and Dumber

1994

Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly

Scenes from the beginning of this comedy were filmed on location in Providence, including a shot of the Big Blue Bug.

 
 

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