If you look up Brenda Yelvington on IMDB (an online database for entertainment), you will see that she is “known for” being the director of “Leaving a Legacy,” a 90-minute film about a year in the life of the Northside High School Grizzly Marching Band and seven of its students.
But for some University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students, Brenda Yelvington and her husband Lavon Morton, the film’s executive producer, may be known better for the Northside Legacy Fund, which was created to provide two scholarships for Northside students who attend UAFS.
But on Jan. 20, the film was enough. That evening, “Leaving a Legacy” premiered in the theater of Windgate Art and Design to rave reviews. In the three-day period from Jan. 20-23, more than 800 people saw the film either at UAFS or at Northside High School.
Yelvington said creating the film was a three-year journey she wasn’t sure she wanted to take.
The idea was born in February 2012 when Yelvington saw and fell in love with the movie “Undefeated,” which premiered to acclaim at South by Southwest in 2011 and won an Academy Award as a documentary in 2012.
She realized that as a band mom, she had back-stage access to the Northside band and its members, and she started noodling around on the piano, plinking out “Legacy’s” theme melody, “Heartbeat.” She thought band director Gordon Manley was its heartbeat.
Still when she Googled “how to make a documentary,” she became overwhelmed at the enormity of the project and told her band-member daughter that she wasn’t going to do it.
And then Manley had a “heart incident.” And the movie started playing in her head.
When in July of 2012, Yelvington heard that Aaron Dunham, assistant band director, planned to take the band to play a concert in front of Manley’s home, she started filming, hiding in the bushes “with a not expensive video camera.” When Manley, his wife and his mother went out on the porch to listen to the music, she stepped out of the bushes, and creation was underway.
Nevertheless there was a year of planning between that moment in 2012 and when the filming of the 2013-2014 band year began in earnest. In fact, the project so far falls relatively easily into three one-year segments: a year to plan, a year to film, and a year to stitch the project together, turning 150 hours of raw footage into 90 minutes of finished film.
However, Yelvington said recently the adventure is far from over.
“I’ve completed Phase 1,” she said. “I’m still not tired of the project. I am now in Phase 2, whatever that may be.”
Part of Phase 2 will be the search for an appropriate film festival to give “Leaving a Legacy” a bigger audience, maybe one that includes someone who could help her distribute the film through an online streaming service or in physical theaters.
The film chronicles the year-long development of the high school marching band. The audience watches a new assistant band director join the group, and they see the real-life – and enormous – challenges some of the students face. Viewers see the individuals mature over the course of the year as band members and directors coalesce into a kind of family. At the end there is graduation for the students and a return to work for the directors.
It is perhaps a good metaphor the film’s creation itself. Yelvington watched the footage she filmed and marked clips with key words. Next, with some help, she compiled a 5,000-line spreadsheet listing discreet segments. Then with the opening in mind, she started editing from the end, working toward the beginning. Eventually individual shots began to work together and unity was achieved.
Showing the film in Fort Smith in January was a kind of graduation, but like the students, Yelvington now has to begin anew with the next challenge she faces.
She said she was overwhelmed by the love for the movie she saw in Fort Smith, but now she has to send it out into the world to find out if people who don’t already love Northside will love the film too.
Call it the sequel.