North Texas Daily

Documentary about local treasure thief to premiere at SXSW

Documentary about local treasure thief to premiere at SXSW

Documentary about local treasure thief to premiere at SXSW
March 03
04:11 2016

Victoria Baghaei | Staff Writer


Sitting at a Chili’s 12 years ago, Cassie Hay, director and writer of documentary “The Liberators” overheard a compelling story about a man from her Texas hometown that she couldn’t keep off her mind.

There isn’t much in the small town of Denison. But it’s home to a lost treasure from World War II, stolen by historical UNT alumnus Tom Meador. “The Liberator” focuses on the theft of religious and cultural artifacts called the Quedlinburg treasures, valued at almost $350 million.

It will show at South By Southwest 2016 in March as one of 10 selected films in the Documentary Feature Competition category.

“Being from North Texas, I don’t see a lot of stories that reflect where I came from,” Hay said. “So it was really important to me to bring the world I grew up in to larger audiences.”

Most of the treasure was found in North Texas, recovered and sent back to Germany. Two pieces remain lost but are rumored to be in the North Texas area. Hay said the film features art researcher Willi Korte and “New York Times” cultural correspondent William H. Honan on their hunt for the stolen treasures.

Hay holds a film degree from New York University, is now a mother of two and currently resides in Austin. After graduating from NYU, she worked on building up funding for many years, using all of her resources to make her documentary happen. She was in charge of everything from directing and writing for the film, to hiring cast and crew; it was her creation.

“[Cassie’s] camera uncovered a great untold story, and one that some of her interview subjects would have preferred to keep secret,” David Bryant, “The Liberators” executive producer said. “I’m always inspired by that kind of tenacity, and I think audiences will be able to get that feeling by watching the film.”

In 2014, while pregnant for the first time, Hay was finally able to get the production in motion.

“It’s the labor of love. I was crawling around in caves pregnant, just to get the right content for the film,” Hay said. “It was exhausting and hard, but one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Hay said she drew her inspiration from Selma director and fellow women’s filmmakers.

“I just knew that this is what I wanted to do,” Hay said. “I love being a woman in this field, and I love drawing inspiration from women like Ava DuVernay. This is a man’s field, and I know women can tackle it.”

The story isn’t completely focused on the treasure, but also on the story behind the thief.

Joe Tom Meador was stationed in Germany toward the end of WWII. He also obtained a bachelor’s degree in art from UNT when it was called North Texas State University—so it was only fitting that the treasure he stole was priceless paintings and works of art.

But it isn’t that he just stole a few priceless paintings—this theft was considered one of the biggest art thefts of his century. Among the stolen treasures was an illustrated ninth-century version of the Four Gospels in a jewel-encrusted gold and silver binding.

Hay focuses on hearing from Meador’s family members, who have had the treasure passed down to them.

“We wanted to tell the other side of the story,” Hay said. “The story about the thief.”

The film will have its world premiere at SXSW 2016 film festival, taking place March 11-19 in Austin, TX.

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