Brad Mays’ independently produced feature documentary, I Grew Up In Princeton — five years in the making — will have its world premiere Oct. 18 at the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center in Princeton.

The film is billed a coming-of-age story recalling the events in Princeton during an era of racial, political and cultural division during the 1960s and 70s. The film features interviews with notable Princeton residents of the time, including cartoonist Arnold Roth, former Institute For Defense Analysis director Lee Neuwirth, former superintendent of Princeton Regional Schools Phil McPherson, artist Nelson Shanks, author Zachary Tumin of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and former members of the Students for a Democratic Society political activists James Tarlau and David Schankler.

Because the film was originally conceived of as a “video journal” for the 40 year reunion of the 1973 graduating class of Princeton High School, Mays began his interview process with the graduates from his class. As the stories unfolded, he realized there was a recurring theme that permeated the dialogue- a tipping point in history for his generation that was the Vietnam War.

“As I started having initial conversations with former classmates — Colin Dougherty and Elizabeth Carpenter come to mind — it started to crystallize that this wasn’t just a ‘reunion’ video, but a very in depth look at a troubling time and series of events that impacted all of our lives,” he said.

Through interviews with more than 60 current and onetime residents, the film emerges as a deeply personal perspective on how perception played a role in a town split racially, economically and sociologically. I Grew Up In Princeton covers a broad range of topics, from experimental public educational programs and the war in Vietnam to the expressions of exploding arts and countercultural communities, both on the Princeton University Campus and within the local community of “townies.” The film features an original score by former Princetonian Jon Negus.

Mays was featured in the January Princeton Echo (which can be read here). We caught up with him via email as he was making final edits on the 2-hour, 3-minute film.

Princeton Echo: The tagline is “Stories you never expected to hear about a town you only thought you knew.” What did you only think you knew about Princeton?

Brad Mays: I thought I was the only Princeton expatriate who felt such a strong gravitational pull from the Princeton of my past. It turns out that just about everyone I interviewed felt likewise.

PE: When we spoke in January you expressed a desire represent every point of view on those times. In the end did you get what you were looking for in that regard?

BM: Well, you never get as much as you’d like. But, at the risk of sounding simplistic, I got everything I needed. In my wildest dreams, I never thought the film would be as rich, as compelling, as funny and disturbing as it is.

PE: Are you happy with the narrative your research and interviews yielded?

BM: Yes, I am. It’s the most personal, the most resonant, the most truthful work of my life.

PE: What feelings have you been left with, having completed or as you complete the documentary?

BM: I’m deeply happy. I feel like I’m about to offer Princeton, and the world, something of value. My friends have backed me up, kept me going. My wife Lorenda has been guiding me every step of the way, from wherever she now resides. My new partner, Linda Carroll, has been very supportive and has seen to my mental, physical, and spiritual health. I’m profoundly happy.

PE: How did making this film change you?

BM: Well, I lost my wife to cancer, I lost one of my best friends in a drowning accident, I reconnected with a whole community of friends who have provided me with more love than I could every ask for, and I’ve made the best film of my life. I gotten to tell the truth, and I’ve fallen in love again. I guess what I’ve come to realize is that you can take the boy out of New Jersey, but you can’t take New Jersey out of the boy.

On the Web: igrewupinprinceton.com. Tickets: iguip.eventbrite.com.

– Interview by Joe Emanski