The upcoming 15th (and final) annual New York Underground Film Festival will be hosting the international premiere of the documentary “Hoopeston”. The film looks at a formerly prosperous Illinois town as it deals with a declining economy, drugs, and the controversy caused by Witch School (and the Correllian Tradition that runs it) moving in.
“Two and a half hours south of Chicago near the Illinois- Indiana border, once the global capital of sweet corn production, Hoopeston, according to residents, went from a town of “overachievers to underachievers in the span of just ten to fifteen years.” Church. Meth. Republicans. That’s about what’s left when town officials, hoping to create jobs, start offering to give away prominent downtown buildings to anyone with a business plan … but – whoops – guess who’s coming to dinner: a displaced Wiccan sect shopping downmarket for a good spot to open the “nation’s first witch school,” Witch School. A beads industry mover and shaker from Virginia Beach; a pagan CEO with a checkered romantic past; the Orson Welles-esque leader of the Corellian Tradition, since age thirteen… take a trip with these egos to the dork side.”
While the NYUFF description is somewhat mocking, the filmmakers seem quite sincere in wanting to impartially tell the story of the conflicts that emerged between Witch School and the heavily Christian town.
“The directors of the school faced stiff opposition from religious conservatives (Hoopeston has over a dozen churches – its other nickname is “The Holy City”). But the Witch School is now a fixture in Hoopeston, one that forces the town to ask whether its future lies in traditional industry or internet wand sales. Hoopeston tells the story of the former Sweet Corn Capital through the lives of its residents. A laborer struggles to find work, a young entrepreneur buys the only motel in town, the police chief battles a drug epidemic, and the Correllian Chancellor lays plans for a vast Crystal Web.”
The Hoopeston story doesn’t have a happy ending for Witch School. Due to a number of factors, including the ongoing lack of acceptance by locals, the school (and the Correllians) moved to the even smaller town of Rossville, Illinois to make a new start of building a “Salem of the Midwest” (a plan that seems increasingly unlikely, as Rossville seems even less enthusiastic than Hoopeston at Witch School’s presence). “Hoopeston” should be an interesting exploration of what happens when religious cultures clash outside the (mostly) tolerant (and secular) urban areas most Pagans flock to.
The New York Underground Film Festival runs from April 2nd through the 8th at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City’s East Village. “Hoopeston” is scheduled to screen on April 3 at 8:45 PM, with a repeat showing on April 8 at 9:30 PM. No word yet on other festival appearances or a DVD release.