On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

1 Dec

October 19, 2017 | Oil & Water | Blue Bell, PA

Oil & Water — Before Hollywood, there was Pennsylvania

Stars were made in Montgomery County. In the early years of movie making, Betzwood Film Studios on the banks of Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River, was the world’s largest, most advanced film studio.

I learned this surprising history from Brent Woods, senior director of cultural affairs at Montgomery County Community College, in Blue Bell, PA. Woods is deeply engaged in building an audience for the arts, and his enthusiasm for this community and its role in film history is infectious.

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Today the college is home to the world’s largest known archive of Betzwood movie studio artifacts, thanks to resident expert and history professor emeritus Joseph Eckhardt. According to Eckhardt’s website, https://mc3betzwood.wordpress.com, Betzwood was a sprawling 350-acre complex where more than 100 films were produced and circulated worldwide. It was built by Siegmund Lubin, a German-Jewish immigrant, who by 1912 was America’s first movie mogul. Lubin is credited with being the first to mass market films, and he employed up to 1,000 people who churned out five to six million feet of film at the studio each week. Among the footage Betzwood created was this train wreck, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-SV46oJR8o&feature=youtu.be, which Lubin used in five of his films. Click on it, it’s really a train wreck.

As I toured the campus on my final stop on the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation tour, it was easy to imagine stars emerging from this community today. I observed students composing music, recording a radio show, and pitching projects in a classroom that looked more like an executive suite. I saw several dozen camera bags loaded with gear for students to make films, as well as a television studio and state-of-the-art editing suites. Students at Montgomery County Community College are learning in an exceptional environment. I’m excited for them, and perhaps even a little envious.

I’d like to thank Jerry Collom for inviting me to meet with students in his advanced video production class, as well as Matt Porter for the department tour, and Iain Campbell for the care he took in ensuring a perfect screening. Thanks especially to Brent Woods for taking the time to give me a window into the community’s future, as well as fascinating past. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier way to end the tour.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Francine Strickwerda

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