When Atlanta artist Michael Murrell told me of his project of digging up the massive stump of an ancient chestnut tree that he found in the national forest (he got permission) — and that he recorded much of it with a shaky camcorder — I thought of his work as performance art. So we put together his shaky footage with a brief interview in his studio to make this short film that honors the past — and future — of this beloved tree.
Emory’s Fox Center for the humanities has invited me to talk about the “new era” of documentary filmmaking, which to me means more diverse viewpoints, more distribution outlets, technological innovations that put more equipment into more hands, and more narrative techniques that allow filmmakers to tell their stories better. I’m especially talking up short documentaries because it frees up the filmmaker to be more creative instead of spending way too much time figuring out how to pad out a story into a 60- or 90-minute time block for mass media.
Met a lot of dedicated volunteers and staff members while working on this video to promote Chattahoochee Riverkeeper's Neighborhood Water Watch program. You can learn more about the program here.
It was also my visit to Cascade Springs Nature Preserve (backdrop below). What a spectacular little park.
Many Atlantans who live in the north DeKalb area know about it, but few have ventured off busy four-lane North Druid Hills Road (3162 N. Druid Hills Road, to be precise) to check out the best and brightest -- and only -- sculpture garden open to the public for many stop-and-go and soul-less miles around.
It's that "yard with the metal sculptures" to thousands of daily commuters and school children on yellow buses.
But spend a minute with artist Clark Ashton and you'll learn a thing or three. It's "The Commuter Gallery," begun almost 30 years ago. It's "The Mechanical Riverfront Kingdom," which includes "Faith in Industry," the "Control Tower," the "Sky Saw," the "Sky Stitcher," "The Infrastructure of an Uncertain Future," the "Bateman 5000," all situated on "Druid Hill" (a place name he hopes to make official soon with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names).
In his own words (something he is very good at in terms of describing his creative expression) he is "an artist with a keen sense of craft, a philosopher with a vision driven by self-actualization, free expression and independent thought, and a citizen with a responsibility to document our time as honestly as I am able.”
With the help of photographer/filmmaker Joe Boris, we've started talking to Clark and learning more about his work for an upcoming documentary.
In the meantime, you can find out more about Clark here:
This video about Emory's Theater Department "Year of Shakespeare" looks at the programming and great performances by students, faculty, staff, and professional actors in honor of the 400th anniversary of the bard's death. The video itself involved a lot of collaboration with the faculty and staff, especially Prof. Jan Akers, who was director of Theater Emory at the time. Hopefully, high school students interested in doing college theater will see the video and realize how creative and caring this academic community is.
This new video explores the IDEAS fellowship program at Emory, which brings together undergraduate students from across the campus to enrich their liberal arts experiences. In the video, we wanted to capture the energy of the students in the hallway and at lunch, especially while interacting with faculty in informal settings.
Common Good Atlanta, a program that brings college-level liberal arts classroom to prisoners, celebrated its 10th anniversary on Feb. 11, 2018. In this short video, several alumni talked about how much the program means to them. We've also interviewed Georgia state senator Nan Orrock and some of the faculty who have donated their time to the program. It's a fantastic all-out volunteer effort led by Sarah Higinbotham (Georgia Tech) and Bill Taft (Georgia State). You can find more videos about the program here.
Last week I joined Emory Professor John Malko and interpreter Tsondue Samphel for our fifth year of videotaping science lectures that are presented in both English and Tibetan for the benefit of monastics in India. This work of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, supported by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, provides in-depth lectures of biology, physics, neuroscience and the philosophy of science. As the Emory faculty will tell you, the learning has definitely gone both ways.
For more information on the program, see the ETP Homepage.
After warming up with three short-doc screening events at Avondale Towne Cinema, we're holding our first "short" short doc festival on February 5th. Awards go to the top three films and the audience will choose a favorite as well.
Please drop by if you're in the area. Doors open at 6pm. Screening & Awards from 7:00-9:00 pm.
FREE Admission. Cash bar. Great restaurants nearby. (What more could you want?)
Top Three (3) films receive judges’ awards. The audience will choose an Audience Favorite.
In Alphabetical Order:
“Garage,” Steve Summers (A father’s garage, Anywhere, U.S.)
—the mysteries of a father’s garage and workspace, candy corn and all
“Ghosts in the Road,” Jason Hales (Atlanta)
—possible paranormal activity near Arabia Mountain
“House of Saints,” Gerry Melendez (Columbia, S.C.)
—reflections of an excon living out his days at his historic family home in Columbia, SC
“Long Haul Truckers,” Greg Miller (Atlanta)
—hail to those men and women driving the big rigs
“Matthew’s Gift,” Jon Watts (Atlanta)
—a photographer gives a precious gift to a family
“A Name that I Admire,” Sam Smartt (West Virginia)
—a hard-working farmer faces a political dilemma
“What So Proudly We Hailed,” Duane Saunders Jr.
—students from Morgan State University delve into the third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner”
Special thanks to Tony Longval at Avondale Towne Cinema for hosting the festival!
The 2016 presidential election. Black Lives Matter. Removal of Confederate monuments. Dreamers and DACA.
Lillian Smith is still so relevant today.
With searing intelligence and humanity, she addressed the psychological and social issues that lie behind these actions and more. She pushed back. As Diane Roberts writes in her 2016 Oxford American piece about Smith: “Her work showed that there was a way to live in the South and push back against the paradigm, to become part of the resistance, refusing to acquiesce in our unthinking religiosity and conservatism.”
We want to introduce another generation to her story and courage. She influenced countless lives, befriended Civil Rights Movements leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., and gave a voice to what others were thinking but were too afraid to say in public. She was the first white southern writer to speak about the evils of segregation (in the 1930s), describing the harmful effects on both whites and blacks.
This documentary will explore her legacy and the life journey that led to her awakening, from her childhood experiences in the small north Florida town of Jasper, teaching in China, running a girls' summer camp in the north Georgia mountains, to becoming a bestselling author and activist.
We're fortunate to have the backing of Piedmont College’s Lillian E. Smith Center and the Georgia Humanities for this project -- as well as fiscal sponsorship through the Southern Documentary Fund -- and look forward to partnering with other groups and individuals in the months ahead.
For updates on this project, see links below:
Endnote: Mary Crovatt Hambidge, the subject of my last documentary, and Lillian Smith both lived near Clayton, Ga., in the north Georgia mountains. How this one little mountainous area produced two very independent and outspoken women (no evidence of a friendship there), along with the Foxfire project, is another story.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper approached us in fall 2016 to produce a series of short videos that would show people who live in the watershed—the river drains an area of 8,770 square miles—talking about the weather-related changes they've seen.
So we identified a few key areas and occupations up and down the river: the headwaters (fishermen, paddlers), Lake Lanier (boaters), Atlanta (gardeners), South Georgia (agriculture), and Apalachicola River or Bay (wildlife).
We appreciate everyone who spent time with us, sharing their observations. Yes, it's important that scientists and public policy people talk to each other about a warming planet, but until everyone starts having these conversations -- and seeing how we're all connected -- it's hard to see anything changing.
You can find the individual videos here: https://chattahoochee.org/see-change/
For the CRK Climate Change Conference (Sept. 27-28) and Patron Dinner, we produced a five-minute video (below) that brings together all the interviews (and nice drone footage by Henry Jacobs) to give people a birds-eye view of the river.
With the collaboration of my younger son Henry Jacobs and my friend (and commercial photographer) Joe Boris, we've started organizing bi-monthly film screenings at a 1920s movie theater in Avondale Estates, Ga. We don't have a mission statement (thank God),* but we are screening short documentaries around different themes (e.g., water, work, politics, adoption), and we're organizing a film festival in February 2018 that will hand out awards and those little laurels you see on award-winning films.
This really feels like a golden age of documentaries in terms of getting the right equipment into the right hands of people who want to tell a good story. So we happy to help get the word out.
*Okay, if we had a mission, it might be to entertain, enlighten and energize our community with soulful films about the South.
Very gratifying to win the Best Documentary Award at the spring 2017 Southern Shorts Award Film Festival in Roswell, Ga. The seasonal festival is on Film Freeway's top 100 list of national/international festivals and the unique thing about this festival is the scoring system... a 100 point system which increases the objectivity tremendously. Three judges per every film AND you get a written critique from each judge. And the award ceremony was a lot of fun for everyone.
My article on the importance of funding for basic science appeared in the spring 2017 issue of Emory Magazine (link here). Maybe every politician who denies substantial AND consistent funding for basic science research should be denied advanced medical treatment that grows out of basic science research. Just an idea.
The exhibition is coming down, but the memories stay fresh. So does the interview.
In their SoHo loft, filmmaker/artist Camille Billops and theater scholar James Hatch talk with Randall Burkett and Pellom McDaniels, curators at Emory University's Rose Library (March 28, 2015). This edited interview was featured in the exhibition "Still Raising Hell: The Art, Activism, and Archives of Camille Billops and James V. Hatch" (fall 2016 - spring 2017) at the Schatten Gallery, Emory Library.
Filming Maggie Koerner in action at Eddie's Attic last month was a great chance to see Maggie do her thing... which I find incredible... and work with my son, Henry Jacobs, who also filmed (using our new Panasonic GH5's) and edited.
It's a simple premise. Talk to people up and down the length of the Chattahoochee River watershed about the changes they're seeing in the environment. Hotter summer? Harder rains? More droughts? Leave politics out of it (for the moment). Just have a conversation about what seems to be changing. Then maybe we can sit down and figure out ways to help the situation.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is sponsoring this project and the short documentary that will follow. See more information here.
For over 40 years, Dr. Alan Solomon, researcher and oncologist, has been moving rocks, building stone walls, planting conifers, installing sculptures and water features on his land overlooking the Tennessee River in Knoxville. We spent a weekend with him, walking through his 10+-acre garden, which rivals any botanical garden anywhere, learning more about him and his work. There's something very fitting that a healer like Dr. Solomon should create a garden that has natural healing powers of its own.
We're already looking forward to visits in the spring and autumn to capture more views of the garden.
For the last couple of years, Campbell Gitomer, a recent Emory graduate in film studies, and I have been providing low-cost video services to the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory. JWJI offers a well-attended weekly lecture series and wants to reach a broader online audience but couldn't afford to pay the usual fees ($300-$400) for recording, minimal editing and export to a Youtube-friendly file.
You'll find their YT playlist at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDSBylqXf9oH3hNsd55yDC7Hjtu7Z-LSE
If there are other centers, arts groups or nonprofits out there who would like occasional help with talks, please let us know and we'll try to help out.