Middletown residents, Wesleyan professors write, direct 'American Oz' documentary

A film written, directed, and produced by Middletown residents and Wesleyan University faculty Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain, "American Oz," explores the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

A film written, directed, and produced by Middletown residents and Wesleyan University faculty Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain, “American Oz,” explores the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Contributed photo / Wesleyan University via American Experience

MIDDLETOWN — A film written, directed, and produced by Middletown residents and Wesleyan University faculty Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain explores the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of the beloved classic American narrative, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

MacLowry is assistant professor of the practice in film studies and Strain is associate professor of film studies. Together, they direct the Wesleyan Documentary Project.

The “American Oz” documentary depicts how Baum continued to reinvent himself — working as a chicken breeder, actor, marketer of petroleum products, shopkeeper, newspaperman and traveling salesman — while reinterpreting his observations through films, books and musicals.

Featuring interviews with Wesleyan’s Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, emerita; “Wicked” author Gregory Maguire, and historian Philip Deloria, and others, “American Oz” shows how Baum wove together scraps and shards of his own experiences into an enduring work of the imagination. As a young husband and father, Baum was continually struggling to support his growing family.

His quest to find his true calling led him through a dozen enterprises; some were abandoned for the next big thing and others failed. But each provided Baum with fodder that could be transformed in his writing.

The documentary premieres Monday from 9 to 11 p.m. on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

This spring at Wesleyan, MacLowry is teaching FILM 457: Advanced Filmmaking, and Strain is teaching FILM 384: Documentary Storytelling and FILM 430: Documentary Production.

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from the News @ Wesleyan blog.