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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

The subject ‘found' her

Callicoon Center Band inspires documentary

By Jeanne Sager - reporter/photographer

Jeanne Sager | Democrat
Documentarian Alice Elliott near the bandstand that has inspired a film.
A friend once told Alice Elliott that you don't find your subject, your subject finds you.
The Callicoon Center Band didn't have to do anything unusual to find the Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker. Members did what they have done for more than 80 years now: fill a small bandstand to capacity each Wednesday night in the summer months, play their hearts out for just one hour and then disperse.
There's magic in what happens in Callicoon Center on those warm Wednesday nights, Elliott says, almost a “mythical quality.”
“It's permanent but fragile,” the filmmaker says.
It's that dichotomy that Elliott explores in her new film, a documentary about the band that she began shooting in 2008.
Elliott's husband, Russ Treyz, grew up in nearby Cooks Falls and graduated from Roscoe Central School. She's been visiting the area for 45 years and the couple now have a second home on Tennanah Lake.
It's how she found the band ... or the band found her.
It's how the head of the documentary film department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts decided to turn her lens toward Sullivan County.
“Every time we'd come to the band, I'd have this involuntary choke up feeling,” she said. “It's a completely emotional reaction deep inside of me ... it's a real gut response.”
Why the band evokes such a reaction is something Elliott attempts to parse out in her film. Is it the music itself or the sense of community? Is it the all volunteer membership, especially long-time director Jim Newton or is it the faithful crowd of folks who return week after week for their taste of something that can't be found just anywhere?
There are community bands left in America, Elliott has discovered in her research, but not like the one that's celebrating its 81st summer in Callicoon Center. Most bands are paid and none have a leader like Newton, who Elliott credits with being not just the man raising a baton at the front of the bandstand on Wednesday nights but for being the band's protector and advocate.
“You see such loyalty to the band members in him,” Elliott says. “He has such a clear respect for them. I want to honor the people who do this, especially Jim.”
She wants to honor the community too. The film will focus on the band, but she's had the benefit of working with some talented photographers who have captured the beautiful scenery of Sullivan County and the stories of a variety of people who are involved in the band in some way.
“It depends on a community spirit that you just can't take for granted,” she noted.
Now Elliott is turning back to that community for help. Although the film itself is largely done, she's now raising money to finish it, including money to purchase music rights and cover the editing process.
The Roscoe Free Library has offered to act as a sponsor in the process, meaning donations will be tax-deductible under the library's 501c3 status.
Checks should be made out to the Roscoe Free Library, with CC Band in the memo line, and can be sent to Roscoe Free Library, PO Box 339, Roscoe, NY 12776.
For more info on the documentary, check out

Documentarian Alice Elliott near the bandstand that has inspired a film.

Photo 178
The Callicoon Center Band is made up of professionals such as Larry Ravdin of Liberty, left, who has played with top-notch names, and gifted amateurs such as Cecilia Brey, at right.

Photo 880
Conductor James Newton leads the Callicoon Center Band at one of its Wednesday night summer concerts.

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