Aaron Smith gets comfortable with the workings of an automobile on set with his wife Brittany Smith Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, during the walk through for the filming of Stowaway, a documentary based on the story of Captain Herman Nelson, a Port Huron native captained an ill-fated voyage across the Great Lakes in the 1930s. About 30 extras participated in filming a scene in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church. (AP Photo/The Port Huron Times Herald, Wendy Torello) NO SALES
PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — For Aaron and Brittany Smith, the recent videotaping of “Stowaway” was a case of art imitating life.
The married couple played Capt. Herman Nelson and his wife, Catherine, for a documentary following the life of the Port Huron man who went from steamship captain to the city’s police chief.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church on Seventh Street in Port Huron was like taking a step back the 1930s.
About 30 extras dressed in period garb roamed the sidewalks and a dozen classic cars lined the curb.
The only indication of modern influence was the occasional boom of a subwoofer from passing drivers.
“We can recreate part of the real history of Port Huron — educate and entertain,” said Edward Senyk, station manager for CPHS 6 and director for the documentary.
Martha Navarro, Herman Nelson’s granddaughter, obtained a $15,000 project grant from the Michigan Humanities Council for the Port Huron School District.
Navarro is a retired director of early childhood education for the district and occasionally writes grants for its projects.
She said the filming was a sort of dry run for the types of video projects the district would like to do with students. Over the summer, she offered students the chance to get involved — students from St. Clair County Community College participating as crew and extras.
“We want filming to be used as a teaching strategy so students can learn skills like English, writing, research, and social studies through the filming process,” she said.
Navarro said Nelson was a captain of a Great Lakes steamer in the 1920s that collided with another ship. The other ship sank, and Nelson was held partially responsible.
“The film is about how he dealt with that anguish and feeling of responsibility,” she said. “.how he conquered those feelings of discouragement to have a successful career in the police department.”
Navarro said the documentary extends beyond family history.
“Our intention was really to try to boost our filming program in the school district,” she said. “If we can disguise learning opportunities through filming then that’s a way to really make learning more relevant.”
Jessyca Fye, of Port Huron, showed up for videotaping with her mother, Melissa. Fye is a student at St. Clair County Community College and auditioned for the documentary in June.
“I just like being on camera,” Fye said. “I love dressing up historically in different time periods. I think it’s because you can be outrageous and nobody cares.”
Ray Somogy Sr., of Fort Gratiot, is no stranger to being in front of the camera — he also participated in the Port Huron Lip Dub in early August. He plays the parish priest in the documentary.
“This is a historical, factual thing that happened,” he said. “Just like the Lip Dub, it’s meant to make people proud of the community.
Navarro said she’d like to wrap up taping by mid-November and then enter the documentary into film contests around the state, including the 2013 Blue Water Film Festival. She said the group will also likely air the documentary on Channel Six in Port Huron.
“My ultimate goal is to pitch Port Huron as a filming destination,” she said. “We have beautiful natural resources.”
Although Aaron Smith is co-founder and president of the Black River Theater Company, he said he’d never played a role such as Nelson.
“It’s cool because a community of our size has a lot of different things happening and people don’t know about it — people need to get clued in,” he said.