After single handedly producing his latest documentary, RI Industrial Revolution: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, local filmmaker and anthropological educator Joseph Lyons has taken his film to venues around the state, with more showings to come.
The response to the film, he said, has been overwhelming, so much so that he’s put the documentary onto DVD.
Filmed guerilla-style, with much of it from a camera mounted on Lyons’ bike, the documentary focuses on the history of the Industrial Revolution as it started in Rhode Island, going all the way back to the founding of RI.
“It's focused primarily on the Washington Secondary Bike Trail and the Pawtuxet River Valley and I bike along it and stop at various key points and discuss the history that happened there,” Lyons said.
“It's been screened at the Museum of Work and Culture as part of their yearly Valley Talks winter lecture series, and also at Recycle-a-Bike in Providence, by the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition as part of their Bi
discussions of a third screening, as part of a double-feature at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence,” he added.
The film came about “kind of by accident,” Lyons said, as he was making his daily commute from Providence to Coventry, using his preferred method of travel-- biking along the Washington Secondary Bike Trail.
Originally from North Kingstown, the RI resident was on the lookout for historical landmarks anywhere he could find them, mostly for sharing pictures online.
“Early on, I was sort of keeping my eyes out for things like historical markers or memorials and sharing mostly images.”
But it wasn’t until a friend posted a picture on Facebook of a 19th century bunker in West Virginia that Lyons hit on what would become the subject of his documentary. The bunker, he discovered, was used to house a machine gun used for strike busting. He then “looked up something like ‘20th century machine gun turret strikes’" and started getting hits for Rhode Island.
“I was confused at first and started looking into it more. I learned that there was a massive strike in 1922 that paralyzed the economy all along the Pawtuxet River Valley and even up into Mass., and that it started in Riverpoint,” Lyons said of the serendipitous connection.
At the Natick Mill, along what would be Rt. 2, he also discovered there were “riots that got so bad they called in the National Guard, who mounted a machine gun turret to the roof in order to break the strikes.”
Lyons then began researching 20th century RI and realized many of the key locations of the story were along his commute to work.
“I decided to talk about the strike and make a 10-15 minute video. It ballooned and ballooned. It's now 55 minutes,” he said.
All of the research, writing, filming, editing, and mastering was done by him.
“I even recorded the soundtrack,” he added.
All in all, the documentary took him about 8 months to put together, with Lyons currently in the early stages of planning a second part “that focuses more heavily on the mills in the northern part of the state.”
And though he’s made several films in the past, Lyons said this one was by far the “longest and most comprehensive.”
“A good part of the point of what I do is to make educational films that are relatable. High budget documentaries of far-off places are awesome, but they feel as distant as they are. When it's me, biking around to places you can just as easily see for yourself and have the same experiences I did... it hopefully starts to feel like something you can go out and do yourself,” he said. “The idea is to get people interested in the rich history that inevitably surrounds them wherever they are and to then go outside and experience it to the best that they're capable.”
In addition to making documentaries, Lyons also runs a blog, Pedal Powered Anthropology, where he discusses various topics related to anthropology and science, as well as written versions of his videos and accounts of events and talks he’s attend that have cultural or historical significance.
He also has a Youtube page under the same name, as well as a Patreon account. For more information, and to purchase his documentary on DVD, visit anthrospin.wordpress.com.