Cinema professor takes MPT viewers on trail of historic barns

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February 07, 2012

It wasn’t until Cinema professor Jonathan Slade hit Maryland’s back roads to film his historic barns documentary, premiering at 8 p.m. Feb. 29 on Maryland Public Television, that he realized just how passionately people feel about these iconic American structures.

“We discovered that everybody loves barns – it’s like some weird unifying force,” says Slade, whose memories of playing in old barns as a child in Carroll County’s Bachman’s Valley sparked the idea he pitched to MPT.

When he was just a few months into filming the project, Slade happened to mention it to McDaniel Chemistry professor Rick Smith between their back-to-back classes in Decker Auditorium. Instantly, Smith started sharing his own childhood memories of playing in barns near Hagerstown, and soon Slade was including them in the documentary as well.

In fact, everyone he interviewed had at least one suggestion of a barn Slade shouldn’t miss – and colorful, down-home directions on how to find it. A few barns into the project and Slade stopped asking about other barns while he and videographer Tim Pugh were packing up. Instead, he asked on camera, and the result became the opening sequence of the hour-long show.

According to MPT, the film looks at the construction, use and repurposing of Maryland’s old barns from the Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Stops include St. Mary's City to see Maryland's oldest continuously standing barn, the colonial-era 1785 Mackall Barn used for tobacco, and a one-of-a-kind French-style stone barn on the historic Best Farm at Monocacy National Battlefield. There’s also a once-dilapidated dairy barn in Woodsboro, now renovated into an environmentally friendly three-story home with elevator and an observatory atop a silo.

“It was a great creative, collaborative experience – like a wonderful reunion getting back with the people I used to work with,” says Slade of the crew at MPT, where he was a writer/producer of documentaries and children’s programming for 11 years prior to becoming a full-time professor at his alma mater in 2003. Slade earned four Emmy awards for his educational “Vid Kid” series on MPT and a fifth for “Eatin’ Crabs: Chesapeake Style” in 2008.

And, always the consummate teacher, Slade was able to bring two McDaniel students on board as interns during the project. Communication major Tom Wach ’10 assisted on a shoot at the Hoff Log Barn at the Carroll County Farm Museum, and Amy Andrews, now a senior Cinema major, went along when filming the Best Farm stone barn on the Monocacy Battlefield. Andrews also assisted in the edit suite, logging raw footage from the shoot she went on.

“I learned so much about being out there in the field and saw some pretty neat things while filming, like a really awesome black field snake crawling up the side of the barn at Monocacy Battlefield,” says Andrews, whose post-graduation dream job would be to work at MPT. “It was an experience I’ll always treasure – listening to everyone tell stories about barns was so interesting.”

“Historic Barns of Maryland: An Outdoors Maryland Special” airs at 8 p.m. Feb. 29 on MPT. Rebroadcasts are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 10, 10:30 p.m. March 21 and 1:30 a.m. March 22.

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