Middlebury native returns with fun, homemade ‘Pirate’ film

MIDDLEBURY — As a kid growing up in Middlebury during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Peter Ferland would yearn for snow days and weekends when he could break out his Super 8 camera and make some fun-filled movies with his buddies.
He filmed, and occasionally starred in, some abbreviated and decidedly low-budget knock-offs of James Bond and the Swamp Monster. Ferland and his neighbor Mike Sommers filed down the blade of an axe to add realism to their own slasher movie. He also made some very good claymation movies.
Times have changed, but Ferland has held onto his youth and his love for filmmaking. Now 48 and living in New Paltz, N.Y., Ferland has put the finishing touches on a feature-length movie called “Pirate Birthday Party.” As it was in his teen years, Ferland wrote, filmed, produced and played a major acting part in this movie. But instead of sharing the screen with friends, he recruited his two sons to play big roles in the film, which is a humorous take on the transition that youths inevitably make from paper hats and playgrounds to iPhones and the dating world.
It seems fitting now that Ferland will offer a premier screening of “Pirate Birthday Party” in Middlebury, where his passion for movie making began. That screening at the Town Hall Theater is scheduled for this Sunday, June 28.
“It’s still sort of the teenage me making movies with a Super 8 camera,” Ferland said about his impending homecoming during phone interview on Monday. “(THT) is a beautiful theater, and any excuse to come back to Middlebury is something I am excited about.”
Indeed, Ferland has led an eventful life since graduating from Middlebury Union High School in 1986, much of it in the film and entertainment industry.
He enrolled at New York University, and ultimately finished his studies at Goddard College. He lived in the Plainfield/Montpelier area for around four years after that, during which he served as first assistant director on Jay Craven’s short film “High Water.”
His resumé includes directing and editing a rite of passage documentary called “Tending Fires” that screened at the Green Mountain Film Festival, the Lake Placid Film Forum and the Tri-State Film Festival. He made the music video “Invisible Friends” for the Grammy-winning engineer Dean Jones and the band Dog on Fleas. He wrote and directed two short comic movies (“CSA: Huguenot Street Farm” and “CSA: Huguenot Street Farm – The Sequel“) that were second-and first-place winners, respectively, in the Water Street Market Film Festival 2008 and 2010 in New Paltz.
He has written two feature films — one of which (“Bereft” for the cable TV network Showtime) was a finalist for the 2006 PEN Center USA Literary Award and the other (“Simple Things”) was a finalist in the 2007 International Family Film Festival. Ferland was also a writers’ assistant credit for 96 episodes of the five-time Emmy-award-winning sitcom “Frasier.”
Life has taken him away from the hustle and bustle of America’s film hubs, to the community of New Paltz, where he has been a leader of wilderness immersion programs for children ages 8-14 with Wild Earth Wilderness School in the Hudson Valley and an arts educator for video and play writing for area schools for grades 5 to 8. He also waits tables at a local restaurant.
Along with working those jobs and raising a family with his wife, Megan Snow, Ferland makes sure to carve out enough time for film projects, such as “Pirate Birthday Party.”
Ferland got the idea as he became more acutely aware that his two sons were growing older and losing interest in “kid stuff,” like themed birthday parties and toys.
“My sense is I wanted to capture that moment while I still could,” Ferland said.
So it was in 2013 that he completed a script and enlisted his sons Oliver (then 14) and Henry (then 11), among others, for a shoot that would last four months to cover the events of a single day — the day of a birthday party for the oldest son. Nancy Graham — a frequent actor in theater productions in the New Paltz area — agreed to take on the role of Ferland’s wife. Ferland’s real-life spouse said that while she would be happy to see the movie staged in and around their home, she did not want to appear on the silver screen.
The volunteer actors agreed to wear the same clothes to shoots in order to maintain the illusion of the one-day timeline of the film.
“Over the course of that (four months), these kids are all physically growing,” Ferland said of one of the challenges during filming. “My older son was outgrowing his clothes.”
Later stages of the shoot carefully avoided footage of trees, which by this time had lost many of their leaves to the approaching winter. This also made for some chilly days on the set for the actors.
While the topic of waning childhood can be emotional — particularly for parents — Ferland made sure to spice up his script with some humor.
“I’m going for the jokes as much as I can” Ferland said. “I really take great care to be funny and entertaining, while being true to this world I have created and these characters.”
Ferland does not want to give too much away in his preview of the film, but he is proud of his work and believes his audience will enjoy it.
“I believe it comes to a satisfying, emotional conclusion,” he said simply of the 90-minute movie.
He is looking forward to the Middlebury screening and hopes to see some of his former actor friends from his Super 8 years in Middlebury.
“I am excited to go back to Middlebury and say, ‘Look at what I did,’” he said. “I want to inspire people to do the same thing.”
“Pirate Birthday Party” will be screened this Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater. Admission is $10. More information about Ferland’s work can be found at www.peterferland.com.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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