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Brandon Civil War love story to air on Vt. PBS Monday evening

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Posted on November 13, 2017 |
By Lee J. Kahrs



Vt PBS to air Thornton film DeathWilderness couple.jpg
BRANDON’S FRANKIE AND George Davenport posed for this wedding portrait in 1860; a few years later Frankie traveled to a Civil War battlefield to retrieve George’s body. A film telling this love story will air on Vermont PBS this Monday evening.

BRANDON — A local historian’s labor of love will gain a much wider audience Monday night when Vermont PBS screens Kevin Thornton’s Civil War documentary, “Death in the Wilderness: A Love Story.”

The film tells the story of Mrs. Frankie Davenport, who traveled to a battlefield in Virginia to retrieve the body of her soldier husband, George Davenport, and brought him home to Brandon. The uniquely Brandon Memorial Day tradition of first-grade girls in white dresses laying flowers at the base of the Civil War monument in town is one that Thornton also researched and illustrated in the film.

The film will air on Vermont PBS on Monday, Nov. 13, at 9 p.m.

Thornton, who lives in Brandon, is a former University of Vermont history professor and an American History scholar. He spent three years making the film, which premiered at the Brandon Town Hall over Memorial Day weekend 2016.

Thornton has a keen interest in the Civil War, the role Vermonters played, and the attitude with which they viewed the war and its aftermath.

The film is being shown as part of the Vermont PBS “Made Here” series, which features films made in Vermont and Northern New England.

Eric Ford is the Senior Manger of Local Content for the Vermont PBS Programming Department. He said Thornton’s film was perfect for the “Made Here” series.

“We look for films that are high quality,” Ford said, “and for a first-time filmmaker, ‘Death in the Wilderness’ is fantastic.”

More importantly, Ford said, the story is what made him pursue this screening.

“It’s steeped in history and is highly, highly localized,” he said. “People knew about the Brandon Memorial Day Parade, but they perhaps didn’t know why the little girls wore white and laid flowers.”

Then there is the main story of Mrs. Davenport’s quest to bring her husband’s body home from the battlefield.

“It’s just a fascinating, dramatic tale,” Ford said. “And anything related to local history is interesting to our viewers.”

The film runs 40 minutes, so Ford brought Thornton to the Vermont PBS studios in Colchester and recorded a 12-minute interview with the filmmaker about the making of the film. That interview will appear after the film on Monday night.

As for Thornton, he said in an interview Friday that he was excited, but nervous about the PBS showing. His film has only ever been shown locally to people in Brandon and then in Middlebury at the New Filmmaker’s Festival this past August.

“My goal when I started was to do something for the town,” he said, “but to also tell a Vermont story, and I’m really pleased that Vermont PBS is showing the film. I don’t know what will happen after this.”

Thornton said he has had many more ideas for films since he finished “Death in the Wilderness.”

“I loved making the film,” he said. “I loved the collaboration, I loved the storytelling. It has been a very gratifying process, and I love that people responded to it. I have other ideas and I’d love to do more. We’ll see.”

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