Producer Kelly Burk holds a light reflector on the Buchman historical marker while cameraman John Parker-Rees focuses on the shot. Parker-Rees is also a senior lecturer at University College Falmouth where he teaches broadcasting courses.
Film crew visits Pennsburg to document the life of Dr. Frank Buchman
In his 1985 biography of Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, author Garth Lean wrote that the people of Pennsburg strongly resembled their prototypes in Europe. They were serious, dutiful and apt to take a somber view of life, and their morality embodied a keen appreciation of the value of material things. They believed in hard work, frugality and a scrupulous honesty in their dealings. Buchman himself once described them as “people who are conservative, stubborn and “suspicious” and that “not to excel in something is just too bad.”
It was a desire to learn more about the Pennsburg area, and its residents then and now, that brought a film crew from London, England to the birthplace of the founder of the Oxford and Moral Re-Armament groups. Their interests ranged from where he was born, lived, went to church and school and how he played.
Throughout his life, Buchman spoke often of his hometown and the beauty that surrounded it. It was an inspiration for later works in his life.
Twelve-year-old John J. Miller of Marlborough Township reenacts a scene from Buchman’s youth while Parker-Rees prepares to film it.
When he was 16 years old, his family moved to Allentown and he later graduated from Muhlenberg College and went on to graduate from Mt. Airy Seminary in Philadelphia. He was hired in 1909 as director of the YMCA at Penn State University, a position he served for several years before going on to worldwide prominence.
Buchman and the Oxford Group have been credited with helping in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Perhaps Buchman’s greatest work came at the close of World War II with the reconciliation of nations. Buchman was recognized for his work in many countries and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The group from FLTfilms was on location to film a segment of an upcoming documentary about the life and legacy of Buchman. According to associate producer Kelly Burks, the Pennsylvania filming would take them from Pennsburg to Allentown and Philadelphia - all areas that had an impact in the formative years of Buchman’s life.
Fishing was a big part of young Frank Buchman’s life and, when there was no school, he did it six days a week. His favorite venue was the Perkiomen Creek, so it made sense to start the filming last Thursday along the banks of the local stream.
In the Pennsburg council chambers, film director Dr. Imad Karam looks on as Parker-Rees photographs local sites, with a Buchman connection, as pointed out on an 1890’s map of Pennsburg by Town and Country, Publisher Larry Roeder.
Using 12-year-old John J. Miller of Marlborough Township to portray a pre-teen Buchman, film director Imad Karam staged the scenes with timely precision to make the most of what little sunlight the somewhat overcast morning provided. Miller was outfitted in 1890’s period clothing loaned to the crew by the Goschenhoppen Historians.
After capturing the beauty along the banks of the Perkiomen, it was off to film another of Buchman’s favorite memories, that of walking along the railroad tracks to travel to almost any destination he was heading for.
Before each take, cameraman John Parker-Rees would request, in a calm and restrained tone, “Quiet please, I’m going to start filming.” Quite a difference from the loud and demanding “Quiet on the set” one might expect. The demanding arrogance one might expect from seasoned filmmakers was absent from all of the polite Brits.
A stop at the Pennsburg borough hall was next. There, the group was able to photograph some of the Buchman memorabilia on display in the council chambers. Then it was off to the Buchman’s birthplace at 772 Main Street where Liz Holtz, owner of the property, was an accommodating host.
After filming the building, historical markers and the room where Buchman was born, the crew visited the Pennsburg Reformed Church. At the time of Buchman’s upbringing, the building housed both Reformed and Lutheran congregations. Later in life Buchman, a Lutheran, would become an ordained minister.
The group made a stop at the office of the Town and Country newspaper to see a few more Buchman research documents and to interview this writer. Interviewer Barry Lowe was well prepared an offered a comfortable, yet professional, environment for the question-and-answer session. Lowe offered a comforting “Be yourself and speak to the camera” and off we went. We started out fine and after a few gaffs by the interviewee, the interview was over.
To round out their day of filming, the group made stops at the former Buchman House Hotel (now the American House) and The Perkiomen School, where Buchman attended until age 16.
The long, busy day left us a bit short of all of our intended visits but the group was well satisfied with the results. We finally had time for dinner at the Sumneytown Hotel at 7:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after filming began. With dinner came a time for conversation with Imad, Barry, John and Kelly. We discussed subjects on a local and international level. This writer’s new British friends were delightful and informative. I believe that they felt the same about their new American friend.
With the filming of the Pennsburg area segment complete, the group headed to Allentown and the former site of the Buchman home and an interview with a former Penn State archivist, then to Philadelphia and the location of Buchman’s first church, then back to Allentown for a visit at the Lehigh County Historical Society, caretaker of Buchman’s many awards and memorabilia.
Karam declared the day in Pennsburg “most productive” as I bid them farewell and good luck.
When completed, the as yet-to-be-named documentary is expected to premier in Caux, Switzerland, world headquarters of Initiatives of Change (formerly Moral Re-Armament). For more information, visit www.fltfilms.org.uk.