The best way to profile John F. Seiberling was to let the now-deceased Akron congressman tell his own story.
That was the approach Ohio filmmaker Paul R. Jacoway used to create A Tree Grows in Washington: The John Seiberling Story.
Jacoway’s film, which premieres Friday, explores Seiberling’s life, character and success in wilderness preservation and as a member of Congress from 1971 to 1986.
Seiberling, the legislator behind the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, died Aug. 2, 2008, at age 89.
Much of the documentary is told in Seiberling’s own words, displaying his passion for the environment and his career in Washington representing the old Akron-based 14th District.
Additional interviews with family, aides, associates and friends help explain Seiberling’s character, Jacoway said.
The portrait of Seiberling includes him in France during World War II, looking up from the post-Normandy destruction to see a wedge of ducks flying over and commenting on how humans are insignificant creatures on Earth.
Or Seiberling getting teary in a University of Akron classroom while teaching about Watergate, an American political scandal in which he played a key role as a member of the House Judiciary Committee that investigated former President Richard M. Nixon.
Seiberling was “a very complicated topic” to profile, Jacoway said in a telephone interview.
He said he came away very impressed by Seiberling, his integrity and his ability to develop bipartisan support for projects, unlike today’s Congress.
Jacoway’s research started with the discovery of a narrative audio interview from the 1990s with Seiberling by longtime staffer Loretta Neumann.
Michael Douglas, Akron Beacon Journal editorial editor, is the film’s narrator and tour guide.
Jacoway, Neumann, Douglas and David Hess, a longtime Beacon Journal and Knight Newspapers reporter in Washington, D.C., wrote the story.
Aspects of Seiberling’s colorful family history also were woven into the film.
That includes his grandfather, F.A. Seiberling, being a co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.; and his mother, Henrietta, being involved in helping found Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron in 1935.
The film has been in development for three years, Jacoway said.
He said he is talking with Channels 45/49 in Kent about airing the documentary, but nothing has been finalized.
Jacoway, 53, a graduate of Kenmore High School and Kent State University, is working on his doctorate in journalism at Ohio University.
He is best known in the Akron area for his film, Final Edition: Journalism According to Jack and Jim Knight, that tells the story of the Knight family, the Akron Beacon Journal and the rise and fall of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. The 60-minute film was released in 2009.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.