A piece of local political circus generated more than the usual buzz around the annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival.
Welcome to Snyderville, which took its name from the greeting on the road sign for Roseland’s Pizza King restaurant, captures the zero-tolerance approach to municipal governance espoused by Roseland Town Council member David Snyder and his wife, former town council president Dorothy Snyder, who works at University libraries.
The 16-minute documentary distills hours of gavel pounding, verbal wrangling and tortured parliamentary procedure from council meetings held in spring 2006. The directors, class of ’06 graduates Jacob Imm, Mike Molenda and Noble Robinette, combined scenes from their tour of Roseland’s streets, led by David Snyder, with South Bend television news coverage and interviews of the Snyders and several Roseland residents.
Controversy in the town, which includes a stretch of Indiana 933 north of campus, swelled when the number of fines levied for various infractions of town ordinances leapt from a handful in the year before David Snyder’s election in November 2004 to roughly 200 the year after. A favorite target of Snyder’s was “No Trespassing” signs in yards. Residents faced fines of $50 for every day they failed to remove them. Some Roselanders replaced the signs with others displaying such sentiments as “Give Back Roseland” or “Support Our Troops.” These drew fines, too.
Snyder argued that these and other violations lowered property values in the town. One business owner summed up a swath of local feeling against Snyder by calling him a “socio-psychopath.”
The Snyders previewed the film and attended the premiere showing of the two-hour festival, which screened six times in the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. “The students did a good job of capturing all the different essences of what’s going on in this little town,” David Snyder remarked afterward, indicating what he characterized as an organized campaign of “civil disobedience” led by political rivals on past and current councils.
Snyder praised the students’ cinematography and their use of the news clips and a satirical bluegrass song about Roseland politics that was written and recorded apart from the film by local radio personalities. “Even though it may be somewhat disparaging of my wife and myself, they came in and recorded it,” he said.
At the time of the festival in January, David Snyder faced criminal charges after an altercation with Roseland resident Ted Penn, who replaced Dorothy Snyder on the town council after the November 2006 elections.
Festival organizer and film instructor Ted Mandell says he was pleasantly surprised by the Snyders’ cooperation and reaction to the film. He believes the selection of a closely followed local story as a documentary subject drove an unprecedented number of requests for copies of the film, which led to a first-ever encore presentation of the student film festival in March.
A 40-second trailer of Snyderville is available at www.nd.edu/~ftt/sff07traillerSC2.mov.
The film was one of 13 entered in the festival, now in its 18th year, which showcases short documentary and dramatic feature films produced and directed by students in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre.
John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.