Jackson Center To Screen Great Blue Heron Documentary

The Great Blue Heron Festival inspired a SUNY Fredonia professor to direct a documentary about the magic in the hills of Sherman.

In honor of the upcoming 22nd annual festival, the “Hidden In The Hills” documentary directed and edited by Emmy award winner and SUNY Fredonia professor Mark Kiyak will be screened at the Robert H. Jackson Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 6. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. Kiyak will be available for questions during the screening.

According to Julie Rockcastle, an original founding partner of the festival, it was interesting to see what the Kiyak thought was important to include in the documentary since it was his first Blue Heron ever, and he wasn’t given much direction for what to film or help with editing.

“I believe he captured the essence of the wholesome family part of the festival where there are often three generations enjoying the event together,” said Rockcastle. “The film highlights the full schedule of activities ranging from high-energy, main-stage performances, to workshops, to kids and teen activities, to sunbathing at the beach. And the film definitely portrays the festival crowd as very friendly and happy to be here. I also feel the film is good representation of our beginnings, our history and the reasons why we’ve continued to do this for 22 years. We are pleased to have had our story documented by such a capable, insightful filmmaker.”

Kiyak, an assistant professor of communications for SUNY Fredonia, first heard about the festival from an electrician that mentioned it while helping set up the house Kiyak purchased in Dunkirk. Then, Kiyak’s wife, Stephanie, did some cross-country skiing on the festival grounds in Sherman, and the concept for a documentary was born.

“She went over there with her friend and went cross-country skiing all over the property, and it turned out to be Julie Rockcastle’s property,” said Kiyak. “While they were all talking they mentioned the Great Blue Heron Festival, and Stephanie said, ‘I think my husband should do a documentary for you.'”

Kiyak had done some short documentaries before, but never a feature-length one. He’d worked in television at NBC for many years, and he even won a couple of Emmys while there from working on the Olympics of 1996 and 2000. He also completed a degree in film production and had done some little projects, the longest being 20 minutes, and the “Hidden In The Hills” documentary has a runtime of 90 minutes.

“This was something completely different to do a full-length movie,” said Kiyak. “I did some research on the Internet and met with Julie and her husband, Steve. From what I understand, I’m the fourth one to try doing a documentary on the festival and the first one to actually complete it. It’s kind of nice that it got started, completed and they like it.”

The film features archival footage from previous years of the festival which was donated by festival-goers. It also focuses on the 20th anniversary of the festival, which Kiyak and a team of SUNY Fredonia students captured the video. It was produced by Jane Jackson, a SUNY Fredonia professor who formerly managed Francis Ford Coppola’s studio in San Francisco.

The documentary premiered at the Great Blue Heron Festival last summer, one year after the documentary was completed. Since then the documentary has played at several film festivals including The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival and The Spirit Quest Film Festival.

“The film is the way I experienced the festival, how I learned about the history and how I saw it was it was happening because it was the first time I had been there,” said Kiyak. “The best part of it for me is that when we premiered it one year later Julie and Steve did so in front of the 100 or so core volunteers who have been volunteering for the festival for a long time, and I was nervous about whether I had captured the essence of the festival. And when it was done they gave me a standing ovation. I’ve been going to the festival ever since.”

The Great Blue Heron Festival will be held July 5-7 in Sherman. For more information visit www.greatblueheron.com.