Lawson Wright’s (10) WWII documentary wins New York State History Day contest

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Alex Lautin and Sean Lee

Lawson Wright’s (10) World War II Ghost Army documentary, The Con Men of WWII, won first place in the 2021 New York State History Day Virtual Contest for the City and State of New York. 

Wright has participated in and created documentaries for the competition for four years because of his love for history, he said. “I find the documentary category the most engaging because you’re able to tell a story, in a way, with video, sound, etc,” he said. 

Wright has taken initiative from the start of the project, Upper Division (UD) history teacher and advisor to the project Melissa Morales said. “I’m happy to work with him on [the documentary], but honestly, my contributions have been minor,” she said. “What you see with the documentary and awards that Lawson has won, those are really his alone.”

The documentary focused on a World War II deceptive unit, the Ghost Army. The Ghost Army used visual, sonic, and radio deception tactics to trick the Germans, Wright said. While developing the film, Wright interviewed WWII veterans about their experiences in the army. After serving in the war, those people went on to have successful careers, he said. 

Wright began the process of creating his documentary by conducting research. Initially, he searched for reference sources and background information. He then narrowed his view and looked for catalogues of images and videos for the visual aspect of the documentary, he said. After that, Wright reached out to veterans who served in the unit to gain a first-hand perspective, he said. Finally, he recorded all of the videos and edited them together.

While this is not the first documentary that Wright has worked on, Morales said that his work on the Ghost Army has been outstanding. “Lawson is a very skilled documentary producer — he’s very good at using sounds and visuals to keep people engaged,” she said. Wright’s initiative to seek out and conduct original interviews made this documentary special, Morales said. 

Film/Video and Photography teacher Jordan Rathus was especially impressed by Wright’s initiative in obtaining first-hand experiences from veterans. “[Wright] didn’t look at the process of fact-finding as some kind of barrier — rather, he just embraced the process of documentary research and followed his own intellectual curiosity to gather information from really impressive sources,” Rathus said.

Rathus assisted Wright during the editing process. “By the time he approached [me] to request advice in the editing process, [Lawson] had all of his sources and he had also written his voiceover,” she said. Rathus then helped Wright fine-tune small details, she said.

Wright has always been a fantastic film student, Rathus said. “Lawson pulls from a breadth of diverse interests when he’s generating ideas for films, and that genuine interest in the world around him provides really compelling storylines,” she said.

Wright was thrilled to win first place in the city and the state, he said. “I’m happy to have the opportunity to compete in nationals.” 

Rathus was unsurprised when she heard of Wright’s victory. “I’m always incredibly impressed by Lawson and I would imagine that he deserves first place,” she said. “I was extremely happy for him — Lawson is such a great person, and I’m just really excited that he’s seeing the success that he deserves.”

Morales was extremely happy with the results. “I obviously did not see any of the other competitors’ documentaries, but the quality of Lawson’s work made it very clear to me that it was something he should be recognized for,” she said. “I wish him well at the national level, and we are all very proud of his accomplishments so far.”