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City museum, key benefactor spotlighted in APT documentary

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Promotional image for a locally created documentary about the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

A documentary about the Anniston Museum of Natural History and John B. Lagarde, a valued contributor to the modern museum, will air Wednesday night on Alabama Public Television.

Jacksonville State University’s Longleaf Studios partnered with Prodigi Arts to produce “Lagarde: Making National History,” an in-depth look at Lagarde’s life and the “intertwining story” of how the museum came to be. 

“I served as executive director for the film and oversaw everything from the budget to creative direction,” Seth Johnson, the director of the film, said. “I also did all the graphic design for the film and served as one of the cinematographers on the crew.” 

Johnson is also the head of JSU Department of Art and Design and brought in film students from the university to help produce the film, allowing them to witness and even assist in the process. 

“This is a great opportunity for our film students to interact with working professionals in the film industry and get to see the entire process from beginning to end,” Johnson said. “Our students were able to participate in the production of this film giving them invaluable experience they will get to put on their resume for the rest of their careers.”

The idea was put to him by an APT commissioner, Pete Conroy, a former curator of the natural history museum. Conroy is currently JSU’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, and said his role on the commission helped him secure funding for the film. 

“One of my favorite projects was to take all of the old videos that John B. Lagarde — he had taken an old 16 mm camera into the wild to three or four different continents,” Conroy said. “I loved the images that he had captured. I think it was like 25 different videos from different trips around the world. So I asked him if he wouldn’t mind voicing over those old videos.”

He said he recorded those reels on VHS tapes at the time, and then Blu-ray, and said he wished to bring those tapes to the next level. That’s when he thought of the idea to make them into a documentary to put them to good use. 

Conroy said the film will focus on the Anniston museum and “what a special place it is.” He said Johnson did a phenomenal job with the project. 

 “Seth is the man,” Conroy said. “He has done a great job with all these projects.” 

APT was more than happy to shed a little light on the museum as it has been telling Alabama’s story for more than 65 years, according to its director of programming and public information, Mike McKenzie. He said there were always more stories to tell. 

“We’ve been very fortunate in the last couple of years to have JSU and Longleaf Studios add to that effort,” McKenzie said. “The Anniston Museum of Natural History is a treasure for people all over the state. And this film revealed how the museum came to be what it is, largely thanks to John B. Lagarde.”

The film documents Lagarde’s life growing up, how he became successful in business, and how he pursued his passion for hunting, according to McKenzie. 

McKenzie said Johnson and the students at JSU and Longleaf studios have also produced two other films for APT in the last year or so: “The Fire in Anniston,” which is the Freedom Riders’ story, and “Forever Wild,” the James Martin story. 

McKenzie said Johnson and the studio also completed another documentary APT will air in February on longtime Alabama Congressman Tom Bevill (1921-2005).

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to have the programs, and it’s a great opportunity for the students there at JSU to practice the art of filmmaking first hand,” McKenzie said. 

Josephine Ayers, chairman of the Natural History Museum’s Advisory board, and chairman and publisher of The Star, said she was honored to have the opportunityto witness the development of the modern museum. 

“I worked with him on an attempt to establish a museum and a performing arts center downtown at the site where the old war memorial building was,” Ayers said, noting that the Gurnee Avenue space had been the museum’s previous home. “I had worked with him on the project some years before it ever really got off the ground and it was such a thrill to see what eventually did happen.”

Ayers said Lagarde was able to see the museum established and “saw that with great joy,” before his passing in January 1999, just before his 96th birthday.

The museum’s name was formally changed from the Regar Museum of Natural History — the original name at its opening in 1930 — to the Anniston Museum of Natural History in 1976, the year it moved to its present home.

Lagarde’s granddaughter, Eydie Kennedy, was featured in the film as a close personal source to Lagarde. Kennedy said he lived with him and her grandmother on their cattle farm in Piedmont for the final 15 years of their lives. 

Kennedy said Conroybegan compiling information about her grandfather quite a few years ago. 

“Granddad had some of those reel films and Pete had them put on cassettes,” Kennedy said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of those again.”

Kennedy said she still has the films and finds it fun to watch them. She said she was looking forward to the premiere of the documentary.