Elizabeth Trojian can attribute her success as a documentary filmmaker to many things, among them a constant desire to learn and a work ethic that drives her to put her best into every project, but it's her storytelling ability, learned from her father, Dr. John Trojian, that has gotten her ahead in the competitive field.
Trojian, a philosophy student-turned-filmmaker, screened her newest documentary, "Curse of the Axe," of which she is the executive producer, for her father and his friends at his Hamilton Township home Aug. 11.
Needing work while a Ph.D. candidate at McMaster University in Ontario in the mid-nineties, Trojian took a position at a Canadian film production company. She found it to her liking, leaving her philosophy studies to pursue filmmaking.
"I just really took to documentaries," Trojian said. "All the things I'd learned in school about research and investigation and telling a story, which I really got from my family and my dad - he's an awesome storyteller - just worked for me."
"Curse of the Axe," Trojian's third feature-length documentary, concerns the study of an early 16th century Huron settlement called Mantle, which is near modern-day Toronto. As the largest such settlement dating from that period, Mantle led to landmark discoveries that have shifted archaeologists' understanding of the Huron in the late precontact period.
Initially lost among these discoveries was a rusty chunk of iron, believed to be a piece of an axe head, found carefully buried underground. The piece was initially written off as a farmer's tool lost centuries after Mantle was abandoned, but archaeologist Ron Williamson, whose excavation is the crux of the film, was intrigued by it.
Because wrought iron was not produced in North America in the early 16th century, linking the piece to Mantle would rewrite the history of the Huron, who were not believed to have had contact with Europeans until a century after the settlement was abandoned.
Trojian's crew followed Williamson and his team as they studied the piece. The numerous 'Eureka!' moments littered throughout the film give "Curse" its charm, Trojian said.
"I think it's a pretty remarkable film because ... none of it is recreated, so when they discovered these huge historical moments, the viewer is there at that exact moment," Trojian said. "These opportunities, especially in an archaeological film, are so rare, so I think it really makes 'Curse' special."
The film captures the often difficult process of archaeological research, following Williamson's team as it unravels the mystery spanning the 500 years between point Z and point A.
LaJeanne Radford, a neighbor of the Trojians and one of the attendees at the screening, said she was most impressed by the study conducted by team member Andrea Carnevale, who traced a maker's mark buried under centuries of rust to its origin in a 16th century Spanish town.
"I can't imagine how many records (she had to go through) and how much research she had to do," Radford said. "I think the research was just unbelievable, that they did actually find the mark and where it came from."
The film was broadcast on History Television in Canada this summer and was well-received. Trojian, director of development at the film's production company, yap films, said she is in talks with the History Channel and the Smithsonian channel for a U.S. broadcast in September.
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