Last night we took one small step for internet radio and one huge step for Kazoo Films. We appeared on Shaina Kapeluck’s program “The Invisible Worm” on the E-radio station ashevillefm.org. If you’ve ever been curious as to some of the underlying consciousness behind our work, I think that the show helps to scratch the surface of the experience that Bruno and I have had in creating this project. And the music isn’t bad either. We traded back and forth playing music with Shaina. There are some pretty great tracks. Many of our contributions are songs inspired by the film. Hope you enjoy us on “The Invisible Worm!” Listen!
Harrison and I just returned from a lovely if whirlwind visit to Brasstown.
The Good: The John Neil Memorial Contra Dance, Charlotte Crittenden (who hosted us on Saturday Night), Sourdough Pancakes, all of the inspiring and wonderful people that you are guaranteed to come across on a visit to Brasstown, Paul Garrett, Lake Chatuge
The Bad: Our car is in the shop getting the timing belt replaced, and our loaner-car came across some difficulties, so we are reduced to biking and hitchhiking around to all the various places that we need to be (the least of which is not the radio show: http://www.ashevillefm.org/the-invisible-worm that we are going to be heard on tonight). Honestly, it’s a place we’ve been before. It’s just one of those things that makes life hilarious and exciting. At least our bikes are up and running. So, anyway, if in the next few days you get a call from one of us saying, “so…are you planning on heading into Asheville at any point…” don’t be shocked. Consider yourself warned.
The Amazing: This Sunday we attended the service at the Mt. Zion Baptist church in Texana (outside Murphy). Harrison and I went for the first time last week on LaKisha’s recommendation. We met the pastor, the deacon, and what seems like a good portion of the congregation. Everyone was unbelievably welcoming, and seemed genuinely pleased by our presence and interest. Before the service, we talked with the Pastor, J.P. Webb, briefly about our idea to include him and his congregation in our film, and he seemed understandably apprehensive, but not totally opposed.
So last monday we sent him an email explaining a little more about our intentions and methodology, and we attached the film’s outline. This week in service, he asked us to stand up and speak about our project, and I did, and then amid a chorus of “amens” and applause, the pastor pledged his own support and that of the congregation, asserting that ours was a worthy project and that he looks forward to working with us! My heart soared! We were so touched, and excited, and we are just so glad to be able to include Texana’s rich and complex history in the project.
I consider Kisha to be Texana’s historian. Whether she is generally considered as such, I don’t know. But Harrison and I were blown away by her wealth of knowledge, her dedication to local genaeology and history, and her insightful wisdom. She can speak on the subject much more eloquently than I can write about it here, and hopefully she will in the film, but let me share a little bit. The Joe Brown Highway, she told us, which runs out of Murphy and by Texana, was actually the first leg of the Trail of Tears, where the Cherokees were brutally and almost completely driven out of North Carolina. Those Cherokees that stayed had to hide their Indian heritage. If they could pass for white, they could live in Murphy, and if they could pass for black, they settled in Texana, which at the time was one of (if not) the only self-sufficient all black communities in North Carolina. So to this day the heritage of Texana, and Murphy as well, is deeply mixed, and perhaps bears the remnants of a great burden of shame and fear.
A filmic juxtaposition to this, a negative of this photograph, is the later scene in which Felix meets Charlie while they are working together on a traveling medicine show. The miracle elixirs sold in these charlatan acts were often advertised as coming from ancient Indian recipes, so a medicine show would travel around with an “Indian Chief” who would vouch for the medicine’s authenticity. Perhaps these “chiefs” were Cherokee from time to time, but often they were white or black folks wearing inaccurate, gawdy head-dresses. Charlie is a black fellow who makes a living pretending to be an Indian. Race is a weird thing. It’s never as simple and easy as people want it to be, and its construction is so often tied to economic and political ventures.
Ok, so we know that our film is going to be kind of romantic. But we want to be serious and genuine about some complicated and rarely-talked about socio-cultural realities. In 1910 the black population of North Carolina’s Appalachian counties was 11%. Now, that’s not exactly Bed-Stuy or Watts, but, folks, that’s more than 1 in 10. There weren’t really urban centers at that time, so we are talking about black farmers and craftsmen, laborers, people working on the railroads, and one in ten is a sizable figure, especially for a region that people swear up and down is and always has been totally white. “There are no black people in Asheville” – don’t let people tell you that; Asheville is 17% black (for some reference, New York City is about 23%).
There has been some amazing scholarly work done in the last few decades, by Cecelia Conway and others, talking about old-time fiddle styles and the tradition of African-American fiddle music and musicians, not to mention the banjo itself, which has its roots in West Africa, and for a long time was played mostly by enslaved black people on plantations. Old-time and bluegrass music, thought of by some to be a white trash stereotype, by others a pure Anglo-American art form, actually has a exciting genesis rooted in cultural interchange! YES our film will be a romanticized portrait of the region, but it’s bound to, because it is art and it is a movie. But, dag-nabbit, most romanticization of this region has been about cultural and ethnic purity, and I just think that Western North Carolina is more INTERESTING than that.
We’ve just returned from Brasstown! For those folks who don’t know, half of the film is going to be filmed in Madison County, NC (a very mountainous, sparsely populated county) and Cherokee County (a slightly less mountainous, sparsely populated county, and home of the John C Campbell Folk School). We’ve been approaching people and telling them that we are community supported filmmakers – that our goal is to emphasize the participation and contribution of groups and individuals (we’re still seeking donations *wink wink*). When it comes to getting actors on board, our approach is to get their full input and from there work with them to incorporate the character that they want to be into the film! When an actor, or location owner, or organization feels dedicated to their role like we feel dedicated to the film, then everyone leaves the table feeling pretty great. Everyone we met with this weekend was like that. One fellow insisted on driving to the location and blocking out how the scene should go. Another asked question after question about our sound equipment and then couldn’t stop playing, singing, and throwing out ideas about what his character should be like. One woman told us that she’s wanted her Grandmother’s house to be in the movies since she was a little girl. Basically, in the past few days we’ve been able to gather some amazing locations and characters.
We’re trying to employ similar techniques in our rehearsals. This past week we began rehearsing with our leading man, Forrest, and leading lady, Sadie. They so closely resemble their characters that the chemistry they feel together translates to their acting, or at least that’s what it seems like.
The next two weeks will be a circus of rehearsals, tying up of loose ends, and dancing, and prop shopping. If we can be half as productive as we were in this past week then we’ll be sitting pretty on July 1st, just in time for Nando to arrive and shooting to begin.
Forrest and Harrison go on a location scouting mission to the Laurel River.
Megan Scott recommended this film to me months ago, and then it was one of the first things that Forrest mentioned when we told him about the traveling medicine show sequence of the film. But I didn’t get around to watching it until this past weekend (partly because of our highly limited internet access). Anyway, it’s amazing! You’re gonna love it.
The search for a title, even a working title, goes on.
Nothing has emerged as an obvious choice, and it may be that one day Harrison Forrest and I will be passing a billboard or listening to a song lyric, or reading something written on the inside of a bathroom stall and simultaneously all point and say, “That’s it!”
But until then, we are definitely entertaining suggestions.
“The Heart of a Stranger” appeared as an early idea, sort of a play on the “Dedication” poem. But honestly it’s a little too sappy for my taste. Lyrics from some of the film’s more important songs like “Mole in the Ground” and “Queen Jane” seemed like obvious places to look, but nothing really came together except for maybe “Root That Mountain Down” or “Roll On Buddy.” A rereading of the book of Jonah (to me one of the film’s thematic foils) was basically fruitless. Maybe we’ll find some good stuff in the book of Ecclesiastes.We shall see.
Anyway, send your title ideas and five dollars to: 835 Cargile Branch Marshall NC 28753. Until then, it will just be “THE FLIM.”
Well, right now I’m in costume mode. I’ve been calling Asheville costume rental houses and trying to sort out what is the best option. The hardest part about costuming for a film that smoothly spans 100 nonconsecutive years is that we want the boundaries between time periods to be subtle. I want to find costuming that has application from 1910 to 2010. I think I need to go to the library and look at old periodicals on microfiche. The best options seems to me to take a single costume and just make alterations based on the context of the scene. That’s where my mind is right now.
A couple of months ago I was returning from New Zealand, reeling a little bit, and looking for adventure and project possibilities. After a Folk School contra dance, while hula-hooping, Harrison and Bruno pitched their movie to me, and asked me to be a part of it. They have been working on the film for the past year, but it didn’t take long for me to get swept up into the idea.
I moved to Raven Ridge dairy farm last week to begin this month of full-time preproduction (and milking, gardening, playing, bull-chasing…). Sometimes it feels like we are all thinking with the same brain. This is the most ambitious creative project that I have ever been involved with.
I hope that you’ll follow our progress here, and look forward to our funding pitch!