Filmmaker about Hometown Media Group: ‘This is a growth story’

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Wayne County native Ryan Gleeson, now a Chicago filmmaker, is sharing with Hoosiers all around the state an inside look at how Western Wayne News and Nettle Creek Gazette are produced.

Gleeson’s mini-documentary was to be shown in March at Richmond Art Museum as part of the Indiana Humanities’ INseparable Film Tour.

However, Indiana Humanities has canceled the March 12 event because of concerns related to the coronavirus now spreading in Indiana. It might be rescheduled for a later date at the art museum.

The films soon will be available to stream online. A trailer now is available to watch at https://youtu.be/JhdwTF5fmnQ.

Gleeson’s approximately 10-minute film, “Hometown Media,” aims to show some of the rewards and challenges that the staff of the two weekly newspapers face in their efforts to provide very local coverage throughout Wayne County.

He captured various stages of news production, ranging from reporting and photography to page design and editing.

Gleeson also showed highlights of the papers being loaded into co-owner Brenda McLane’s Buick at the printer before nearly all employees unload bundles, stuff ad flyers, attach address labels and organize papers into totes before transporting them to the post office and stores on Tuesday mornings.

The number of subscribers and single-copy buyers is growing for the two papers at a time when many larger newspapers around the nation are seeing declining readership and cutting staffs.

After someone mentioned to Gleeson that copies of Western Wayne News and Nettle Creek Gazette were for sale inside two Speedway stores in Richmond, Gleeson wanted to learn more about the publications. He began subscribing and learning about their growth.

Gleeson started talking with McLane about the possibility of making a film about Hometown Media as an independent project, and then learned he could apply for a grant through Indiana Humanities to be part of the INseparable film tour.

He completed an application and quickly learned he would receive a grant for his project, which he believes is a great fit with the tour’s focus on connecting rural, urban and suburban communities and increasing communication between all three groups.

“People around here are getting excited about the way they’re evolving,” Gleeson said about the papers. “This is a growth story about something (the newspaper industry) people said was a dead end. … I wanted to see people do what they do well, and I feel we did that.”

Gleeson said after spending time with Hometown Media Group employees that the group is “even more like a family than I thought it was.”

“It feels like a finely tuned machine,” Gleeson said, noting the hands-on role employees have in nearly all stages of production.

Gleeson said he believes journalism and storytelling are going to revert to localized models, as he sees more news coming out of his Chicago neighborhood of Albany Park on the city’s northwest side that wasn’t available 10 years ago.

To show a couple of examples of how the newspaper staff relate to the communities they cover, Gleeson shadowed reporter Millicent Martin Emery as she covered the annual Jar and Antique Market at Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City that drew enthusiasts from around the country in June. One vendor noted he had a jar on site worth as much as $4,000.

Gleeson then returned to Cambridge City in September to film residents interacting with Hometown Media Group staff at their Canal Days booth along U.S. 40.

He also captured writer Dan Harney covering a volleyball competition in Hagerstown for the Nettle Creek Gazette as part of the film.

Gleeson wanted to focus on the relationships that newspaper staffs develop with the residents they cover and tell the stories of Hoosiers who don’t usually see themselves in films.

“You’ll see people saying they’ll probably get to see their grandchildren in the newspaper one of these days, and the sportswriter saying it’s a blessing to get to know every single kid on the team and every single parent,” Gleeson said. “It’s about that interconnectedness.”

Gleeson said creating the documentary gave him a new perspective on Wayne County’s smaller towns and the pride residents take in them.

“I would like people to be able to see this film and see themselves in these characters and also be proud of their communities,” Gleeson said. “I want them to be inspired to take away something about being a Hoosier and what that means. We’re not a bunch of yokels.”

“Hometown Media” also features music composed by one of Gleeson’s Richmond childhood friends, Rob Funkhouser, who now lives in Indianapolis. The 2007 Seton Catholic High School graduate is the son of Steve and Cathy Funkhouser.

Funkhouser’s music was composed for acoustic piano, a nod to the history of the Starr Piano Co. in Richmond.

The composer plans to attend the Richmond screening to see local reaction to the film.

Gleeson sent Funkhouser an early copy of the film so he could be inspired by the visuals, and Gleeson said Funkhouser got the music right on the first try. The two have played music together most of their lives, and Funkhouser also knew the community and understood the general vibe, Gleeson said.

More about the filmmaker
Gleeson, a 2008 Richmond High School graduate, had a three-year gap away from Richmond in elementary school when his family moved to Atlanta for his dad’s job at Holland Colours, but then returned to Wayne County. He is the son of Marilyn and Joe Gleeson.

Gleeson said he always was interested in art and loved his introductory journalism class at RHS taught by Ann Herrman, which led to him becoming a photographer on the student newspaper, The Register.

Gleeson began pursuing a career in photojournalism after high school, studying at Herron School of Art and Design, part of Indiana University, in Indianapolis. His goal was to study fine art photography with a documentary-style approach.

However, after taking a film class, Gleeson’s path changed. He transferred to the film school at Columbia College in Chicago, which has a documentary studies program. Gleeson said that’s rare for undergraduates to be part of such a program.

He dove into making documentaries, inspired to create some films like those he saw in college, to tell meaningful stories.

Gleeson has been “weaseling my way into jobs since then,” he joked.
Gleeson said the documentary industry isn’t really an industry and it’s hard to make a living relying solely on that style of filmmaking, but he pursues that type of storytelling when possible.

He was employed by a documentary company, Kartemquin, for about seven years before deciding to venture into freelancing for a robust commercial industry.

Kartemquin is the oldest privately run documentary company in the world that is most widely known for the documentary “Hoop Dreams” about two African-American high school students in Chicago and their dream of becoming professional basketball players. “Hoop Dreams” won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Gleeson said Kartemquin served as fiscal sponsor for his Hometown Media Group documentary and provided emotional support during the creative process, noting that those interested in making documentaries generally support each other in their artistic endeavors.

Much of Gleeson’s current work includes political ads and commercials for his primary income so he can “take pay cuts to work on films and my own films.”

Gleeson shares a passion for visual communication with photographer Alice Feldt, whom he met on a blind date. While they attended Columbia College at the same time, they didn’t know each other, but had a lot of the same friends, and their roommates dated.

While Gleeson works on his films, Feldt processes her photos, many of which are taken at weddings. They now share cameras and a home office in what Gleeson calls a good partnership.

More about the film tour
The INseparable film tour explores urban and rural identities through five short films.

In addition to “Hometown Media,” these films are being shown:

“The Earthkeepers” by Mitch Teplitsky and Gabriel Lantz: Follows a southern Indiana couple who decide to leave academia to start a composting business — employing ex-offenders along the way. Now they’re on a mission to avert a looming waste crisis in Indiana and beyond.

“From Sundown to Sunrise” by Pat Wisniewski and Tom Desch: Traces one man’s journey from sundown to sunrise as he and his family integrate an all-white Indiana town in 1968. By breaking the color barrier, they also helped transform the town and place it on a trajectory of inclusion.

“Larry from Gary” by Dan Rybicky: Chronicles the trials and triumphs of celebrated dance instructor Larry Brewer and his talented student performers at a nationally recognized arts school in Gary, which was recently closed as part of the restructuring of the city’s public schools.

“Raised in Contrast” by Chad Perdue: Looks at the experiences of mixed-race and non-white Hoosiers who live in rural and suburban communities.

“We are excited to debut these films, made in Indiana by Hoosier filmmakers, which offer textured stories that complicate common ideas about who lives in Indiana and what they’re up to,” said Leah Nahmias, director of programs and community engagement at Indiana Humanities, in a news release. “We hope these films spark meaningful conversations about the ways in which the futures of urban, rural and suburban Hoosiers are linked and what might be preventing us from working together.”

INseparable is a two-year Indiana Humanities initiative that invites Hoosiers to explore how we relate to each other across boundaries, real or imagined, and consider what it will take to indeed be inseparable, in all the ways that matter. Learn more at www.IndianaHumanities.org/inseparable.

Indiana Humanities aims to connect people, open minds and enrich lives by creating and
facilitating programs that encourage Hoosiers to think, read and talk. Learn more at www.IndianaHumanities.org.