If you thought Cranston filmmaker David Bettencourt has just been resting on his laurels after the great regional response to his film, You Must be This Tall, you thought wrong. He has finished a movie and a book since then. Bettencourt’s film, On the Lake, will be aired on RIPBS tonight at 10 p.m. This latest film is not quite as cheerful as the Rocky Point film but it addresses an important part of our regional history.
The book he completed is, not surprisingly, titled Rocky Point Park, a pictorial history of the iconic amusement park. Bettencourt co-authored the piece with Stephanie Chauvin, and it is being published next month as part of the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing.
“Actually, I think the book was harder to do,” Bettencourt said. “I had all this material I collected that didn’t get into the film but still should be available to people. We had boxes of stuff we got from people, historical societies and other sources. Certainly enough to make a book.”
The book, Images of America: Rocky Point Park, will be released on April 13 and be available in bookstores at that time. You can also order the book online at www.rockypointmovie.com.
On the Lake is a more serious film than You Must be This Tall, but it is just as engrossing and entertaining, though you would be safe in assuming that there are not quite as many people with memories of Rhode Island’s first quarantine colony as they do of the amusement park.
Bettencourt’s latest film tells the story of the enforced residence that was the Zambarano State Hospital, which opened in November of 1905 as a Tuberculosis Ward in Rhode Island’s efforts to cope with a dreadful infectious disease that accounted for one out of every four deaths at that time, according to Bettencourt.
“Most people don’t know just how big a problem tuberculosis was at that time,” said Bettencourt. “In the early 20th century thousands of Rhode Islanders and millions of people all around the world died from it. It wasn’t until the 1950s that we had a cure for it.”
In the days before antibiotics were taken for granted, people afflicted with certain diseases were segregated from the healthy, sometimes forcefully. This was the case with “Typhoid Mary” around the same time; the woman who refused to voluntarily stop working as a cook even though she threatened disease to any family that hired her.
Bettencourt, who, along with his co-producer G. Wayne Miller, grew up down the road from Zambarano, was always interested and curious about the residents of the facility and the stories they left behind. The result is On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place. The film spotlights the hospital and the lives of its patients from its opening to the day the last TB patient was discharged in 1988. The hospital is now used as a “general medical care” facility. On the Lake has been recommended by several medical school and public health experts as an accurate telling of a very fearful time in history. But now, back to the book.
The “Images of America” series has printed the history of communities throughout the country, sometimes from very narrow neighborhoods, such as the recently released Pawtuxet Village book from Warwick historian Don D’Amato.
“I think I must have used about 158 pictures for the book,” said Bettencourt.
“What the book represents is all the really good stuff I couldn’t use for the film.”
In Rocky Point Park, Bettencourt isn’t stingy on the scope of the pictures. They range from the time Captain William Winslow opened the point as a picnic area to the last hurrahs of the mid-1990s.
“One of my favorite pictures is the one with Conrad Ferla at the top of the Ferris wheel,” said Bettencourt. “Now, that was a man with a lot of stories about Rocky Point.”
With more than 158 vintage black-and-white photographs, almost everybody who reads Bettencourt’s book will come away with a deep pang of nostalgia – even people who never got to go there while it thrived.
Images of America: Rocky Point Park by David Bettencourt and Stephanie Chauvin; at local booksellers April 13, or online at www.rockypointmovie.com.