“Newport: In This Together” Chronicles Local Response to a Global Pandemic

Middletown documentarian Susan Sipprelle’s latest set for national release in May


Four years ago, people everywhere faced fear and uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives around the world. Like many, Middletown-based documentarian Susan Sipprelle had to abandon a project she was planning. “I was going to make a documentary that showcased Rhode Island,” she explains. Then the pandemic hit. “My husband and I have a large family; four out of my five children moved home, with spouses, significant others, a baby… we had 11 people living in our home. We were all on lockdown. So, my idea of making the film collapsed.”

But inspiration soon struck. “One day, while on a run along Hanging Rock Road, it occurred to me that maybe I could make a film about Newport, a small city with both national and international name recognition, coping with a global health pandemic,” says Sipprelle. Soon, Newport: In This Together was born. The film is the third full-length documentary from the filmmaker, who previously produced Set for Life and Soldier On: Life After Deployment, both of which aired on American Public Television.

Sipprelle’s latest is the story of one community’s resilience in the face of the pandemic. Newport serves as a microcosm of what was going on in communities across America, where individuals came together to support each other at a difficult time. If you live on Aquidneck Island, you’ll probably see some familiar faces in the film, which includes interviews with over 100 Newport-area residents, all recorded during the first year and a half of the pandemic.

The film sets up Newport as the grand tourist destination that it is, with scenes of sailboats, mansions, and the Newport Folk Festival. “It will be seen nationally,” says Sipprelle of the film’s national release this month. “I think it’s important for viewers across the country to see how special and unique Newport is. Otherwise, you won’t understand that when everything closed – restaurants, bars, catering businesses, the mansions – how devastating that is to an economy based on tourism and hospitality.”

Filming during the pandemic meant Sipprelle had to file a COVID plan and overcome numerous obstacles including masking and social distancing. “We had to follow very strict protocols, and my crew was local; remember, for part of the filming, Rhode Island was under a travel ban.” She wasn’t sure what to expect when filming began. “I go into all my

documentaries with an open mind. I let what the interviewees say determine the trajectory of the film, rather than going in with an idea that I want to prove. What came out of the interviews was this amazing creativity, innovation, cooperation, and community spirit.”

“Some days, we were doing three interviews,” says Sipprelle. “It’s a documentary in the fundamental sense. I was documenting what was happening in one place in the world during the global health pandemic. I knew I needed to speak to healthcare workers, teachers, and students. I needed to get to business owners, government representatives, essential workers, people who were having a baby, and people who were adopting dogs, because taking in a pet was such a big part of the pandemic.”

In the film, Barbara Winters, who runs the Housing Hotline, admits, “Newport opened my eyes to community.” Sipprelle shares that Winters has been working in the field for 40 years but for the first time, people came in asking what she needed. “There are so many examples like that; I was really inspired. It gave me hope, and I hope that others who watch it also feel hopeful,” says the filmmaker. “We don’t have to pull separately, we can pull together, and Newport did that very well during the pandemic.” Learn more at NewportInThisTogether.com



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