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50-year-old NJ family drama screens at Sundance

We all have family stories. Some are peculiar and fun. Some romantics. Some scary and dramatic.

Imagine one of the craziest things to ever happen to your family, a trying and scary time perhaps. Now imagine making a short film out of it.

would you? Would anyone care if you did?

A New Jersey family found the answer to that question. “Deerwood Deathtrap” is a documentary short that isn’t just wrapped up and finished reality, it’s premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this week and coming soon, virtually, to the New Jersey Film Festival.

It’s the story of Betty and Jack Gannon who were in the car with their children when they were hit by a train and somehow survived.

Talk about a story that most families don’t have!

They were on their way to a family bungalow in Cape May County with their 4-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter and Jack’s 70-year-old mother. Betty was driving. It was a road they had traveled for many years. They always passed on railroad tracks that seemed long abandoned. During all the times they made this trip, they never saw or heard a single train. As they drove they heard the faint noise, but assumed it was coming from something further away.

All of a sudden, to their horror, they realized they were wrong. Betty planted the brakes all the way to the ground, but it knocked their little girl out of a seat. Remember this at a time when infant seats were brand new and wouldn’t even be required by law for many years to come. Betty’s maternal instinct was distracting her and her foot came off the brake slightly as she turned to look at the baby. It was just enough to put the vehicle on the rails.

A freight train hit them. Crushed metal, glass, blood, etc. Yet somehow everyone in that car, even the baby, experienced the horror. There were wounds that had to be overcome, of course. But that wreck was 50 years ago, in 1971. They all went on to heal and live happy lives.

And their son James Gannon decided to turn this family story into a short documentary. The parents, now both in their 80s, had serious doubts. But it gets a lot of attention.

DEERWOODS DEATHTRAP – Trailer by James P. Gannon on Vimeo.

Amy Kuperinsky from NJ.com did a great article on this, including an interesting part about how Jack and Betty now remember events in slightly different ways. Little things, like if the radio was on or off at the time.

But one thing is certain. They are our neighbors in New Jersey and it’s an incredible story for them. Everyone in New Jersey has a story to tell. What would your documentary be?

The views expressed in the above post are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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