Documenting Lincoln

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Father and son explore address that changed the world

By Nick B. Reid

Hampton Union, January 7, 2014

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Jim and Sean Conant
Father and son Jim and Sean Conant have nearly finished filming
a documentary about the Gettysburg Address.

HAMPTON – If this Hampton father and son’s journey in 2013 was what they originally thought it would be, they would have finished just a few weeks ago, having come closer with President Abraham Lincoln than many contemporary scholars.

In fact they did that, and there’s more. Father and son Jim and Sean Conant have nearly finished firing a documentary about the Gettysburg Address, its world wide influence and the man who wrote the famed 272 –word speech. Included in it are such names as Tom Brokaw and Matthew Broderick, as well as professors at the world’s top universities.

The Conants who are the producers of Hampton-based Rising Picture Company, viewed and filmed all five copies of the Gettysburg Address penned by President Abraham Lincoln in 2013, they’re spread across three states and kept in buildings as prestigious as the White House and Library of Congress.

Sean Conant sent insistent e-mails throughout the year reminding curators that he wanted just a few minutes in person with the documents and updating them with his film’s progress, and in August he was invited into the White House and Cornell University. Add one of the two copies in the Library of Congress and one at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL that they’d seen earlier in the year, and they were at four out of five.

At the beginning of December, Conant didn’t know when he’s be allowed to see the final copy, which is kept under strict protection at the Library of Congress. But he filmed the document in December before the end of 2013, which was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address.

Now as the duo completes its last few interviews over the next month, Sean, a student at the University of New Hampshire who said even as a kid he was
“that one in the family with the camera in your face,” is focused on post-production.

He said he thought it would be fitting for the documentary to run on PBS, but said he can’t know if that will happened until his work is complete. He’s also been in contact, he said, with several publishers who are interested in releasing the documentary alongside a companion book.
The Conants have made several trips to Springfield, Ill., Washington, D. C., New York, N.Y., and a number of universities along the East Coast to film interviews. Some have driven across several states to come to the Conants. Through all the interviews, Sean Conant said there was a recurring theme: This has to be a book. So he developed the concept of a companion book, and found that many of the people he’s interviewed would be willing to contribute essays.

Many people he interviewed commented on the significance of the documentary and asked how they could get a copy when it’s finished, he said. Conant believes his work offers something never before seen, and his interviews have gone out of their way to ask him to come back with the finished film, he said.

Teachers, too, can’t wait to use the documentary in their classrooms,
Conant said. He’s received e-mails from teachers across the country asking how they can get their hands on it, he said.

“It continues to amaze me that given the significance Americans placed on the document that this film has never been produced and it’s taken two common guys from New Hampshire to do it,” Conant said.

But he said, “We’re happy to.”

“It’s exciting. People in places I’ve never even been to are thinking about the film,” he said.

Conant said he’s learned and his documentary will explain that the Gettysburg Address has worldwide significance on various movements toward devil rights women’s rights, immigration rights and gay rights – as well as its language appearing in places such as the French Constitution.

“There’s a lot of movements of people in society that have been affected by the Gettysburg Address, more than people understand and associate the speech with,” he said.

In 2013, the Gettysburg Address moved one Hampton family both all around the country and closer together – as well as a step closer to stardom. Conant side he hopes to have post-production of the movie complete by summer.

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