RICH HILL, Mo. -- Every small town in America is probably worth a documentary, but Rich Hill is one of the few whose dark days and halcyon moments of the past and prospects for the future are being chronicled.
That's because an Emmy Award-winning Pacific Palisades, Calif., filmmaker learned the town well as a youngster and remains interested in it.
Tracy Droz Tragos told the Daily Mail in a telephone interview last Tuesday that she and her cousin, cameraman Andrew Droz Palermo of Columbia, were awaiting delivery of a new camera to make their second visit and keep filming citizens and events.
Conceding that a December trip taught her new things about this Bates County town of 1,500, Droz Tragos said, "I'm excited and curious about the community I thought I knew.
"I'm impressed with the work the Rich Hill Youth Development Center is doing and will tell that story from the perspective of the youths and how the town is working with them. The Community Liaison Council is opening doors at its monthly gatherings."
With 30 employees, the center is run by the Missouri Youth Services Division. The as-yet untitled film will be released in the fall of 2013.
The producer won a 2003 Emmy for "Be Good, Smile Pretty," an hour-long documentary about her father, Lt. Donald Glen Droz, a Naval Academy graduate who died in combat in Vietnam in 1969 when she was 3 months old.
Droz Tragos' husband, Chris, owns an Internet advertising company and edits for her Dinky Productions Co. They have two daughters, 6-year-old Charlotte and 3-year-old Penelope.
Planning seven more visits, she reminisced about spending summers and Christmases here in the 1970s and '80s when living with her mom and stepdad in Oakland, Calif. In a series of e-mail exchanges, she said her relationship with the town changed after her grandparents, Glen and Dorothy Droz, died.
But she still enjoys coming here to see her uncle and aunt, Paul and Peggy Droz, Jeff and Jana Droz, Julie Droz, Frank and Francine Droz and the Rapp and Jennings families. "My great aunt and uncle ran the newspaper and I loved visiting the old printing press," she wrote.
"My grandfather was a mail carrier and getting to visit behind the scenes at the post office was a treat. In many ways, I feel like I grew up in Rich Hill. My grandparents always lived in the same house at 301 Elm St. and had the same telephone number.
"It was a lively, fun place, full of relatives. I was catching grasshoppers, fishing and learning to drive and the downtown was still full of life and businesses. I loved the taste of the funny water and the lights at Christmas and I couldn't wait for the Fourth of July when I got to ride in the fire truck and do all the stuff I couldn't do in the city."
Speaking of Fourth of July remembrances, a Rich Hill auctioneer, who is working with Droz Tragos said Thursday that he has given her DVDs of films made between 1951 and '53. "They show the parades, marching bands and old businesses with the proprietors at the front doors," said Larry Hacker.
"It was cold and icy the night (Jan. 12) that we showed 'Be Good, Smile Pretty' at the Rising Sun Opera House. We still had 75 to 100 people and it would have probably been twice that many if we had better weather.
"We had Tracy on a speaker phone and she thanked everybody for coming and gave them a brief synopsis of what she's trying to do."
Droz Tragos said in a Thursday e-mail that Rich Hill "became less of a place of childhood adventure as I grew older, but it was equally important.
"The idea to make the documentary came from my cousin Andrew. I was driving him to the airport and we got to talking about Uncle Paul and the stories he tells. There is so much about Rich Hill that we love and we don't want those stories to get lost.
"It's my second home. As I grew up, I saw the heartbreaking decay and harsh impact of a global recession. Yet I see a people who refuse to give up and are making remarkable steps toward improving their future without much help to speak of.
"Rich Hill is not unique. It represents many places around the country, places now impoverished that had former glory, more means, more jobs and a vibrant Main Street. Still it's a home to wonderful people who wake up every day and try to make their community a better place.
"I hope this film might make a difference."