It likely all began when I was 5 and we took a trip in the station wagon from Cincinnati to visit friends of the family who had a dairy farm in western North Carolina, outside Hendersonville, and then relatives living in a summer home in the nearby mountains in Lake Junaluska. It was a whole other world from the suburb I grew up in, and I especially remember the drive down, through Kentucky, heading southeast on US 25E from Corbin, winding through the Cumberland Gap, nose pressed against the window, winding into Virginia briefly, then through eastern Tennessee, through Asheville and finally to our destination. This was before the interstates had been completed, so it was nearly all two-lane the first time, and I remember the many small towns, the accents of the waitresses, the gas station attendants and the family friends, how people moved, what they said. We’d visit every three years, and even though I-75 and I-40 eventually reduced the travel time from two days to five hours, the impressions of that first trip remained deeply embedded in my brain.
After discovering film and the film festival world, getting deeper into all types of American music with their Southern roots, enjoying my work at the San Francisco International Film Festival, taking drives through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana and living west of the Mississippi for over 20 years, I took a job at the Nashville Film Festival in 2001. Old memories came back. I quickly discovered, through my various interactions in and outside of work, the diversity, the complexity, the contradictions of the South.
As well as getting to know southern-based filmmakers and their films. Craig Brewer’s The Poor and Hungry screened at my first Nashville Film Festival in 2001. It had been some time since I’d seen such a strong regional film. I enjoyed taking in all of the Southern filmmaking, both excellent and those that came up short if for nothing else to learn more about the culture. Traveling around the South, for work or pleasure, to visit friends, see Julie’s relatives in Alabama or just getting out on the road and chatting with all sorts of folks simply added to that enrichment.
Those old highways through the South and Midwest are less travelled these days, but Julie and I want to show films from these places - rural, urban, invigorating, problematic, genuine - that make up AMERICAN GRITLAND.