"The Trial of Horatio Hough," a documentary film about the Underground Railroad by Clarkson University Professor of Communication & Media Stephen Farina, was screened as an official selection of the Chautauqua International Film Festival on July 30 in Jamestown, N.Y.
The film’s story shows how in the 19th century some Christians in America used religion to justify the abhorrent institution of slavery, while other Christians used their faith, instead, to attack the practice of slavery in America.
With this opposition underlying the story, the film follows cavers in 2014 as they searched for Hough's Cave, a purported stop on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada and freedom.
Intercut with their search is the story of Horatio Hough, a farmer and resolute abolitionist who defied the status quo of his church, his community, and a nation under slavery in 1840s America.
In an online review published before the event, the directors the festival noted that Farina’s film enables the audience to “feel the history” so that viewers “get into the heart, mind, and soul” of the participants in the story.
Two Clarkson graduates played significant roles in the development of the film. Kat Tamburro ’16 served as the film’s primary editor, while Katie Hadgis ’15 developed extensive motion graphics that appear throughout the film.
“It was a privilege to be involved in the creative process from start to finish," said Tamburro. "I thoroughly enjoyed weaving together pieces of an untold story into a finished film."
Much of the motion graphics work was devoted to making handwritten documents from the 1840s come alive on the screen. “I really loved working with the old manuscripts,” said Hadgis. “They're incredibly beautiful, and say a lot about Horatio Hough's world in aesthetics alone. It was my goal to embrace these visual qualities in a way that would appear as if the viewers were flipping through the delicate pages themselves.”
The project was completed with support from the New York State Library’s Cunningham Research Residency and was undertaken in conjunction with two northern New York historical societies that sought to preserve this story before all physical evidence of the cave and its significance is lost. The Lewis County Historical Society and the Martinsburg Historical Society both realized that the local legend of Hough’s Cave will soon be forgotten as the area of the cave is overtaken with large-scale agricultural development.
Over the past two years, the film has been screened at a national conference on Underground Railroad history in Troy, N.Y., a social justice film festival in San Francisco, a caving convention in Massachusetts, and at two New York historical societies.