Monday, October 22, 2007

Forgotten Ellis Island.

This was an amazing day. I went with my family to the premiere of Forgotten Ellis Island, a documentary for which I recorded voice-over this past spring and summer. The premiere was held at the Ellis Island Museum on the island. A particular delight for me was to attend this screening not only with my family but with Bruce Miles and his wife Emma. The film-maker, Lorie Conway, had asked me to recommend male voice talent and I suggested both Bruce and my colleague Drew Hadwal, and Lorie hired both. Bruce and Emma made a vacation of the event and were in New York for a total of 5 days whereas my family and I just went down for the event itself. It was a gorgeous, warm and sunny day, most unusual for October, and we enjoyed the ferry ride over to the island.

Lorie Conway and Bruce Miles

Lorie Conway and Bruce Miles

Bruce and I were as excited as children. Although we had been brought in for the final stages of production, we had gotten very attached to the project not only because it is such a compelling one – who among us Americans cannot relate to the story of immigration? but also because of Lorie Conway’s enthusiasm and passion for the story of the Immigrant Hospital that she was telling through this film. Also, at the time we were hired, the film still did not have a primary narrator, and we had been bursting with anticipation in the last months, waiting to hear who it was going to be. We have known for about two months that the narrator would be Elliott Gould, and we were very much looking forward to the possibility of meeting him. We were not disappointed!

The lights finally dimmed and the film began, and we were riveted. It was a poignant story, movingly told. A number of surprises revealed themselves: on the dock back in Manhattan, while we waited for the boat that would take us to the island, we got into a conversation with a woman who had come all the way from Australia for this occasion. We did not have a chance to ask about her involvement with Lorie’s project, but as we watched the film, we learned who she was. Part of my script had included a description of the final hours of the life of a patient at the Immigrant Hospital who had died of scarlet fever. It was a very sad story, but it wasn’t until I saw the film that I realised just how sad it was. This patient, a young man of 19, was not an immigrant seeking citizenship in the United States; rather, he was a visitor, with gainful employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, he had forgotten his passport on the boat, and was detained at Ellis Island until officials could determine his status. During his detention he had the great misfortune to contract scarlet fever, from which he never recovered. The Australian woman we had chatted with on the dock this morning was that young man’s niece. If you go to the Forgotten Ellis Island website and click on Patient Stories, then click the right arrow twice, you will hear this young man's story told by Elliott Gould, and the account of his public health nurse, Lucy Simpson, read by me.

Another surprise was to learn that in the audience today was a man who had come over from Germany as a small child and had caught the measles. He was nursed back to health at the Immigrant Hospital, and he remembered the place with great good will. The hospital staff had been kind to him, as they were to so many; a great majority of the people who were treated at the hospital recovered fully and were allowed to leave and pursue their dream of citizenship.

After the screening we did indeed get to meet Mr. Gould, and Emma took a picture of him with Bruce and me, which I will post here after she and Bruce get back to Phoenix and have had a chance to rest at home for a few seconds after which I will start pestering her.

[Note on 25 Oct - here is the picture! Thanks Emma!]

Bruce Miles, Elliott Gould and Mary McKitrick

Bruce Miles, Elliott Gould and Mary McKitrick

There followed a lovely catered lunch which was held in a part of the old hospital that has been renovated thanks to the efforts of the non-profit organisation, Save Ellis Island. It was a bit of a hike to get to that area and we had the chance to see some of the hospital and its grounds. It was eerie, I must say, to see it. One cannot help but feel the presence of an extraordinary segment of American history in that place. Without immigration, none of us would be here today.

Elliott Gould did a superb job narrating the film. Bruce – I have known Bruce for a couple of years and we’ve worked together and I knew his talent. But I was blown away by his work on this project. It was really impressive. So was Drew Hadwal’s. And you know what – I even was impressed by my own work! I hope you all will get a chance to see this beautiful film. Lorie Conway is truly to be congratulated on an excellent piece of scholarship and artistry. With luck this documentary will air on television this winter.

Forgotten Ellis Island cake

Lorie's cake!

Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty

Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital

Part of the Immigrant Hospital and Grounds

Inside the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital

Inside the Immigrant Hospital

restoration at Ellis Island

Part of the restoration project at Ellis Island

My guys

Ellis Island Museum

Part of the facade of the Ellis Island Museum

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline

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