Long-burning curiosity finds way to silver screen

Pocopson native’s film, a tribute to firefighters, makes its debut 

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Henry Roosevelt (right) poses with his 5th-grade mentor, Dave Lichter, who teaches at Pocopson Elementary School.

At the premiere of “Native Boy,” Henry Roosevelt (right) poses with Dave Lichter, who teaches at Pocopson Elementary School. Roosevelt said he remembered Lichter as a particularly positive role model when he was a student  in Lichter’s 5th-grade class.

After seven weeks, a Pennsylvania mother had eagerly awaited a briefing on her son’s experiences at Camp Tecumseh in New Hampshire, but the outdoor exploits he wanted to discuss were not part of the scheduled itinerary.

Nearly a year later, the unexpected cinematic detour that 10-year-old Clay Story took was displayed to an enthusiastic crowd at the Ambler Theatre. More  than 100 attended Saturday night’s premiere of  “Native Boy,” a short film in which Story poignantly plays the title character.

The 20-minute narrative by filmmaker Henry Roosevelt, 27, a Pocopson Township native who now lives in New York City, generated a standing ovation and was followed by a question-and-answer session by Michael Wagner, who teaches film production at DeSales University.

Wagner, who had met members of the production team and previewed the film only days earlier, said he was impressed with the results. “It’s a beautiful film, very affecting,” he said, adding that he welcomed the opportunity to lead the discussion.

Clay Story plays the title character in "Native Boy," a short film by Pocopson native Henry Roosevelt.

Clay Story plays the title character in “Native Boy,” a short film by Pocopson native Henry Roosevelt.

Explaining the origin of the film, Roosevelt said he had been hired to shoot some stills at Camp Tecumseh.  He returned to his boyhood stomping grounds as a graduate of George Washington University with filmmaking, writing and editing credits. He also had a new, state-of-the-art digital video camera, making the impulse to do more than still photos irresistible, he said.

He said he asked a group of kids if they would venture into the swamp so he could film them, and Clay was the only one who stayed. One scene led to another, and suddenly Roosevelt had a movie in the making.

When Barbara Story arrived to pick up her son at camp, he proclaimed:  “I’m in a film, and I want to go to New York. ” She said she heard the excitement in his voice and after talking to Roosevelt, agreed to let her son participate, an arrangement that ultimately led to a part for Clay’s sister, Johanna, too.

Roles for family members and longtime friends typify Roosevelt’s routine. His production team included his brother Ben, and classmates from Unionville High and the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, where he boarded his last three years of high school.

Asked about his reaction to the film, Clay Story, a student at Chestnut Hill Academy, described the swamp as “cold” and filled with frogs. “I’m pretty sure I stepped on one,” he said. The filming was “really hard work” but fun. And seeing himself on a giant screen? “I never really thought I was able to do that,” he said.

If Roosevelt gets his wish, Story will get an encore. “I want to make ‘Native Boy’ a feature film,” Roosevelt said, adding that it would be helpful if Clay stopped aging. Roosevelt said one of his goals in the film was capturing the wide-eyed wonder of youth, a quality adults generally lose.

The film, which exudes allegorical and mythical qualities, alternates between the story of a retired firefighter who may be reliving heroics from his youth by writing and illustrating a children’s book, and the boy who may have links to his past and is now chasing the sun.

Roosevelt said he believes people of different ages will find different meanings in the film’s multiple layers, and he embraces that ambiguity. He hopes to do a screening soon at the Pocopson Home, depicted as the firefighter’s residence in the film. But he will have to schedule that among a host of pending projects, including a music video shoot this weekend in Chestnut Hill.

He said he was buoyed by the positive response to “Native Boy” at the premiere. “I don’t think it could have gone better,” he said.

His mother, Janice Roosevelt, a Chadds Ford Realtor who also teaches yoga in the area, was equally thrilled. “It was beyond my expectations,” she said. She said she particularly enjoyed the film’s autobiographical details, adding that Henry had exhibited an insatiable curiosity from a young age. “He always wanted to explore. He was the kind of kid who would be crawling up the shelves in the grocery store to see what was on top,” she said.

An added bonus: Her pride extended to both sons. “They’ve always been close,” she said. “The fact that they did this together, it’s a wonderful thing.”  On a more somber note, the film, which pays tribute to firefighters,  premiered the same night that Capt. Michael Goodwin lost his life on duty in South Philadelphia, she said.

Brad Gulick, the film’s producer, said the cast and crew wanted to extend their sympathies to Ladder 27. “That’s part of what this film was about,” Gulick said. “These guys risk their lives every day.”

Gulick said the production team is pursuing leads for film festivals and hopes to have digital copies of “Native Boy” available for sale sometime within the next month. He said anyone interested in scheduling a screening should email nativeboyfilms@gmail.com. Additional information is available at http://nativeboyfilms.com.

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