Vanished but not forgotten: How a pandemic gave old stories new life.
Released three years ago this August, Voices of Vail was the culmination of years of work to try and bring the rich millennial-long human history of Vail, to the silver screen. Voices of Vail was able to tell many stories across a range of subjects, but it wasn't able to tell every story. There's only so much you can put into a two-hour documentary. Dozens of hours of filmed interviews, as well as hundreds of oral histories, had to be cut.
We didn't want all of those great stories to go to waste and we still wanted to make them accessible to the public. But as you can imagine taking on a two-hour documentary is an incredibly daunting, time consuming, and expensive task. Vail Preservation Society is a small organization so we needed to be crafty and think of ways to take the stories we had and turn them into something we could share.
Last summer disrupted so much and nearly all the ways VPS normally connects with the community were put on hold. One of those ways was the Vail bus tours. Those bus tours allowed us to tell so many unique and interesting stories. Stories that don't necessarily lend themselves to the silver screen, but they're still incredibly interesting stories that are made so much richer when they are experienced in the landscape and places they happened.
We started last summer—in the middle of the pandemic—working on a way to make a virtual bus tour so that we could continue to share those stories, all that rich history, with you. So with some seed funding from the Arizona Preservation Foundation, and the support of the Arizona Humanities Council, we interwove the casual, in-person experience of the bus tours into the cinematic experience of Voices of Vail. In that middle spot, Vanished Vail was born.
We realized very early on that many of the stories we wanted to tell, and many of the places that we wanted to talk about, were simply gone, and that there would need to be some re-creation, some imagination, and that we'd have to heavily rely on oral histories and historic photographs, to bring the Vanished Vail Episodes to life.
Despite the challenges, Vanished Vail has allowed us to be a little more innovative and experimental. For example, episode 9 “Vail Ain’t No Town” was built around the 1986 video Ray Davis made introducing Vail to his out of state relatives. If we were trying to fit Ray’s video into a feature film, we could only use snippets of it. There wouldn’t be enough time or context to let it play out as intended, we couldn't really spend lots of time with Ray lingering on little details, the details he found so fascinating and made Vail his home.
Vanished Vail allows us to tell smaller, more focused stories yet still present them with just as much gravitas—just as much respect—as the larger big broad stories. And I think what we find is that when we treat those small stories as important, when we really take the time to look at them and see what we can learn from them, we find that they aren't really small stories at all. They are fragments of the larger story, they are just the details, the nuances, and these smaller stories give us a human-level perspective on the past that actually brings the larger historical narratives to life.
Much of Vail might be vanished, but its stories are not forgotten.
VPS Special Exhibits Curator