RIT filmmakers Malcolm and Matthew Spaull produce documentary on the Intrepid

Premiering on WXXI, ‘The Intrepid’ recounts Civil War-era balloon and museum’s replica

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WXXI will broadcast The Intrepid documentary produced by RIT filmmakers Malcolm and Matthew Spaull at 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, and again at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26.

A father-and-son filmmaking team from RIT has produced a made-for-television documentary recounting a little-known story from the Civil War era that will make its broadcast premiere on WXXI next week.

Malcolm Spaull, administrative chair of the School of Film and Animation at Rochester Institute of Technology, collaborated with his son, Matthew, a film and animation graduate student, in producing “The Intrepid: Discovering Lincoln’s Balloon Corps,” which will premiere at 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, and air again at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, on WXXI-TV in Rochester.

The documentary recounts the birth—and eventual demise—of the Union Army Balloon Corps during the Civil War and the effort of the Genesee Counrty Village & Museum in Mumford, N.Y., to build a working replica of what was once the corps’ largest balloon. The 72-foot replica balloon was launched last year during the museum’s commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Malcolm and Matthew Spaull produced the documentary, narrated by Peter Coyote, for Northlight Productions.

“This is a little-known story that I believe viewers will find fascinating,” says Malcolm Spaull. “Matthew and I really enjoyed producing it together to bring it to a wide viewing audience.”

Conceived by professor Thaddeus Lowe, the idea of a balloon corps immediately caught Abraham Lincoln’s fancy in 1861 and proved a critical advantage to the North during the Civil War. According to war historians, the balloon’s pilot telegraphed information on troop movements, artillery instructions and other critical information to the ground.

Last year, marking the Civil War’s 150th anniversary and the initial flight of the original Intrepid, the Genesee Country Village & Museum meticulously recreated the balloon for use as an interactive experience at the museum.

While historically balloons were inflated with hydrogen, the modern replica uses the safer helium. Just two weeks before its inaugural flight, however, the replica balloon looked like it would be grounded due to a worldwide helium shortage.

Was the success of the project in jeopardy? Tune in to WXXI Monday night at 9 p.m. to find out.