Christianna Hannum's affectionate documentary about her remarkable grandmother, the late Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, recently screened in Charlottesville with commentary by the filmmaker and her brother, Jeb Hannum. Mrs. Hannum, longtime Master at Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds (PA) was a driving force in land conservation and nearly every other cause she took up. The sometimes madcap, sometimes poignant 35-minute film celebrates both her unique spirit and the beauty of the countryside she loved.
Mrs. Hannum, MFH, at the wheel of her famous Jeep in a scene from "Goodnight Ladies." Image reproduced with permission.
Farmington Hunt (VA) member Mary Buford Hitz coordinated the showing for several dozen viewers and moderated questions for the filmmaker and her brother. An edited 2012 version of a longer piece, "Goodnight Ladies" combines historic images and archival footage of the Penn and Stewart families and hounds with interviews with Mrs. Hannum at home, in kennels, and in the field in her trademark Jeep. The vintage and modern footage of the keen pack and illustrious Cheshire field are often difficult to distinguish, highlighting the success of Mrs. Hannum's preservation efforts.
While the film has received recognition as a documentary and character profile in its own right, many vignettes were particularly appreciated by the Charlottesville audience of foxhunters. A camera inside the Jeep bounces around as Mrs. Hannum relentlessly follows hounds, and her very direct and detailed instructions from the driver's seat to her patient huntsman elicited giggles from the crowd. Christy Hannum later quipped, "My grandmother gave him a lot of structure!"
Filmmaker Christy Hannum speaks with moderator Mary Buford Hitz following the screening at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library in Charlottesville. M. Drum photo.
"My grandmother was so tenacious, so determined to never surrender," Christy Hannum commented during a lengthy question-and-answer session after the screening. She also recalled more lighthearted adventures with family. "She would put us on the top of the Jeep, all the grandchildren holding onto the railing as she drove down the road, I was holding my cousin who was a baby.... My mom caught her, and that was the end of that!"
Jeb Hannum, actively hunting now with Orange County in Virginia and with Cheshire when he returns to Pennsylvania, noted that following his grandmother's five decades of mastership, Cheshire continued her high standards: "Everybody's worked really hard to carry on the legacy, it's so nice to see." Asked about the famous post-and-rail fences shown in the film, he observed, "They're still a defining part of Cheshire that makes it really fun, when you've got 10 or 15 people going abreast across those fences - although, if you haven't been doing it for a while and you go back and do it, you realize you need a really nice horse!"
Jeb also observed that with most of Cheshire's country lying about 50 miles from Philadelphia, it was spared the first wave of suburban sprawl, and the hunting community with his grandmother acted in time to protect more than 20,000 acres. Christy emphasized that despite the added production cost, "I really wanted archival footage in my film because I knew that the roads in Unionville would look the same in 1933 as they do now (mostly). There are times in the film when you don't know which it is."
"Goodnight Ladies" has also screened in New York City, Camden, at the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg, in Pennsylvania, and at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. It was the winner of the EQUUS Film Award, Rome Finalist and Eastman Kodak Award for Cinematography (David Leitner, Cinematographer). To purchase a DVD, please contact Christy Hannum.