Tickets go on sale on Friday, February 19th


Thu Feb 27, 2020 – 7:30 pm | Hendricks Arts Center
Sat Feb 29, 2020 – 12:00 pm | La Casa Grande

Stories I Didn’t Know

Melody Gilbert & Rit Davern
Documentary Feature
USA | 74 min | 2020

It’s a family reunion … what could go wrong? Plenty, as we soon learn when Rita Davern exposes an ugly reality at the heart of a family legend. Her family members have always been proud to say that their great grandparents once owned Pike Island, a beautiful piece of land in Minnesota.

But when Rita relates what happened to the people who lived there before, some family members react with understanding, others with arguments and anger. Rita’s attempts to understand what happened and why leads her on a journey that requires facing the complicated legacy of westward expansion in the United States. Along the way she meets Ramona, a Dakota educator.

What Ramona’s ancestors experienced because of U.S. government policies puts faces and names on this story. Rita listens and learns. She wants to find a way to put something right. We learn the value of finding and facing the past by watching her journey.

Stories I Didn't Know - Poster

MELODY’S STATEMENT: Rita originally hired me to help her make a historical documentary about her grandmother. It didn’t take me long to realize the film was actually going to be about Rita. She just didn’t know it yet. It took me almost three months to convince her that she should be the narrator and tell her story. Once she agreed, I knew we could be partners and co-directors on this film that would focus on Rita’s journey of questioning and healing.

I saw so many layers to her story. It was a storyteller’s gold mine! I also suspected that the bigger story in here was not always what we do as humans, but that we try. You don’t need to be Irish or Native American or Minnesotan to appreciate this film because this story could be about anyone trying to understand their family history and the stories that get uncovered along the way. This is not a film that gets wrapped up in a nice bow, but I do hope it does make people think.

RITA’S STATEMENT: One of the first things I learned about filmmaking was the magic that happens when you adjust the focus on a camera. Put the subject in focus and one story emerges. Highlight the background and a different story comes to light. The making of this film required focusing on the background of my family’s history in St. Paul, Minnesota. What external forces shaped the lives of my ancestors, both in Ireland and in the U.S.? It has been a good, hard trip through history. I am thrilled to share Stories I Didn’t Know with others interested in taking that path less travelled.

What I’ve most loved about this exploration is the new conversations and connections it has made possible. That opportunity – to discover and reflect on our past – is a healing and rewarding thing. It is at the core of Stories I Didn’t Know. I am deeply hopeful about what’s possible when we find our past, face it and learn from it.

Stories I Didn't Know - Melody GilbertMelody Gilbert

Melody Gilbert is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has directed, produced, shot and edited eight feature-length documentaries that have screened at noteworthy film festivals and been broadcast internationally. She also works as a producer for other documentary projects that inspire her, including LOVE THEM FIRST: LESSONS FROM LUCY LANEY ELEMENTARY (2020 Alfred I. duPont award) and BENEATH THE INK (nominated for a 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary that qualified for an Academy Award), WOMEN OUTWARD BOUND (2016/PBS)and the James Beard award-winning THE STARFISH THROWERS (2015). The films that Melody directs are noteworthy for featuring a rare intimacy with her subjects as she unearths previously hidden worlds. She works mostly solo and has the ability to get people to reveal their innermost thoughts, whether it’s the family of a child who can’t feel pain (A LIFE WITHOUT PAIN/SXSW), a former Vice President of the United States (FRITZ: THE WALTER MONDALE STORY/PBS), or people who have full- fledged relationships with synthetic companions (SILICONE SOUL/currently on iTunes and Amazon Prime). Melody is also a passionate educator currently on the faculty at Northwestern State University in the Department of New Media, Journalism, and Communication Arts. The Documentary Channel calls Melody “one of the most fearless filmmakers in contemporary documentary cinema.” Read more about Melody at

Stories I Didn't Know  - Rita DavernRita Davern

Rita Davern is a first time filmmaker. Over the past 40 years, Rita Davern (originally Davoren) has traveled the Burren, birthplace of her grandmother’s people in County Clare, Ireland. Her daily life, like that of her father before her, includes time searching for the people, places and stories her immigrant ancestors left behind. When drinking tea with Irish friends and relatives, the conversation often turns to those who stayed and those who left, as the devastation of colonization, hunger and emigration took its toll. Rita knows first-hand that, for U.S. people with European heritage, reconnecting to our homeland and our cultural history adds huge richness to our lives. Rita worked as a communication and leadership trainer for twenty years. When her adopted Korean son became ill, she learned, and now teaches, Parenting-by-Connection, an approach to parenting that builds close, healing relationships with children through play. Stories I Didn’t Know is Rita’s first film. She is currently working on a second film, Burren Girl, focused on the Ireland part of her family story.

Film Information

Director: Melody Gilbert & Rita Davern
Country: USA
Year: 2020
Language: English
Runtime: 74 min.
Rated: PG


Producer: Melody Gilbert, Rita Davern
Writer:Melody Gilbert
Editor: Miles Painter
Composer: Charlie McCarron
Colorist: Chris Chiabotti
Sound Mix: Jesse A. Marks
Associate Producer: Dumitrita Pacicovschi

Connect With This Film

BIFF - Beloit International Film Festival
BIFF | Beloit International Film Festival