Student to premiere documentary at festival

By Ryan Cornell

STEPHENS CITY — Stephens City may have found its Ken Burns.

Meagan Arnold, 18, is making final edits on a 15-minute documentary that will premiere at the town’s heritage festival later this month. The Sherando senior said the documentary focuses on the history of Stephens City during the Civil War, back when it was still called “Newtown.”

Although Middletown and Winchester saw most of the battles in the region, she said Newtown wasn’t without its fair share of conflict.

“The documentary highlights three days [May 21 to 23, 1864] that tensions were high and there was some fighting,” she said. “The Union General [David Hunter] said ‘burn the town’ and the townspeople met with them and said, ‘This is why you shouldn’t burn it.'”

She said her documentary features historians including Wayne Eldred and Byron Smith of the Newtown History Center and Joseph Noyalas, a history professor at Lord Fairfax Community College.

The documentary will premiere at Stephens City United Methodist Church at 7 p.m., May 23, 150 years after the events talked about in it unfolded.

When the Newtown Heritage Festival Committee was looking for someone to produce a documentary about the town’s involvement in the Civil War, Arnold’s 10th grade English teacher, Bruce Carlton, recommended her for the job.

Arnold has experience producing other historical documentaries, including one about Rosie the Riveter that won the state championship at the Virginia History Day competition last month.

She handled all aspects of production in this latest documentary, from writing the script and shooting video on her Canon 7D camera to editing the footage in Adobe Premiere Pro.

She said the hardest part of the process was “starting from literal scratch” — she said this is the first video made about Stephens City Civil War history — as well as meeting the expectations of the committee.

She isn’t getting any extra credit for the documentary, but she said the experience has been a reward in itself. Arnold, who admitted that she knew nothing about the subject before starting the project, wants to become a historical documentary filmmaker.

“I think it’s because I like telling stories,” she said, “and it’s a true story, so I think it’s that much more interesting.”

Arnold said she will attend James Madison University next year, majoring in film with history as either a second major or a minor.

After the premiere, her documentary will become a permanent part of the Newtown History Center.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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