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NSU student produced film captures the gripping tragedy of a singer’s death 50 years ago

Submitted by Melody Gilbert
The documentary, “The Night the Music Died,” will preview on Monday, Sept. 18 in historic downtown Natchitoches at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum.

Northwestern State University of Louisiana’s Department of New Media, Journalism and Communication Arts students will preview a documentary recalling the tragic event that ended the lives of Jim Croce and five others in a plane crash after performing at NSU in 1973.

The documentary, “The Night the Music Died,” will preview on Monday, Sept. 18 in historic downtown Natchitoches at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum.

The event “Photographs and Memories: A Salute to Jim Croce” will highlight the world-renowned musician and songwriter and provide insight into his final day.

The film reunites three The Current Sauce reporters, Melanie Babin Torbett, Dan McDonald and Janet Vanhoof Tompkins, who recall the tragedy from 1973 involving folk singer Jim Croce just 42-minutes after performing at Prather Coliseum.

This film also features interviews and reflections from university students and others who experienced that fateful day and night in which the lives of Croce and five others were lost.

The documentary was created a year ago as part of the Spring 2022 Documentary Class. Professor Melody Gilbert directed the film alongside the help of student filmmakers as producers Zachary Desselles of Pineville, Anna Duplantis of Madisonville, Colie Plaster of Gibson, North Carolina, and Waylon Washington of Coushatta. David Antilley, executive director of NSU-TV, assisted with studio interviews for the project.

Melody Gilbert, associate professor, said the making of this documentary was close to her heart.

“I was the one who came up with the idea to come up with this film because I was the only one who really knew who Jim Croce was,” Gilbert said.

For Gilbert and her students, it was heartbreaking to hear all the stories, coming from everyone who was either involved or experienced that night.

“Hearing all the stories of those who experienced that night, whether it was from someone who knew the pilot or just stories passed down, certainly takes you back in time,” Gilbert said.

Anna Duplantis, NSU graduate, recalls her time working on the film and what this documentary meant to everyone who worked on it.

“Working on this documentary was a once in a lifetime experience,” Duplantis said. “Jim Croce had an impact on the lives of those that we interviewed, whether it was the impact on a campus presidency, a memorial at a wedding, or a start in the journalism world with The Current Sauce.”

Duplantis also shared her gratitude to not only work on this documentary, but also to work with the late Jerry Pierce and the Alumni who recalled the tragic event.

“It was an honor to work with the late Jerry Pierce and document his experiences of that night,” Duplantis stated.

For Duplantis, she is very thankful for the people who shared their story and helped shape the story in the direction it took.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make the film if it wasn’t for the Alumni. To them, I say thank you,” Duplantis said.

Colie Plaster, NSU graduate, also expresses his excitement for the documentary to be shown to the public.

“Bringing together people who were at NSU at the time made me think a lot about what I will remember about NSU in 50 years,” Plaster said. “I think music can play a large role in relationships and memories.”

He also said that the documentary meant something to everyone who worked on it. Plaster said that the documentary that they made is as much about Croce as it is about the relationships we as people have with each other, and what they mean to us.

“The music is sort of the way that we keep time in a bottle,” Plaster said.

The documentary screening is open to the public, admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students, senior citizens and military personnel. The first 50 students that attend will get in for free. The event will be presented by the local museum support group FLASH (Friends of Louisiana Sports and History). There will be appetizers and refreshments available starting at 5:30 p.m. through the evening. The screening of the documentary will begin around 6:15 p.m.

For more information on this event, visit the FLASH Facebook page or call the local state museum at 318-357-2492.

Edit for Clarity 9/15

This article originally contained a description for a different documentary.

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About the Contributor
Kallie Bourgeois
Kallie Bourgeois, Current Sauce - Reporter
Kallie Bourgeois is a freshman communication major, with a minor in sociology at NSU. This is her second semester as a reporter for The Current Sauce. She has had a love for storytelling since high school, where she spent a year as her school’s Editor for their newspaper. Kallie looks forward to continuing her passion for journalism by delivering stories of exciting events happening on campus and in the Natchitoches area.  

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