This is a series of documentary films produced as part of the Cumberland Gap Folklife Project. Slated for public television, this project will reflect upon Appalachian heritage, focusing on its unique artistic and musical traditions in a series of six episodes. The final episode on the Sharp Family is a distinct feature-length documentary film that will be submitted to international film festivals.
An interactive website will accompany the release of these films. On this site, viewers will watch the films and further explore each character through video clips, family photographs, and writings. The interactive website will also feature additional unique and amazing characters for you to meet.
Get a sneak peak now of many of our characters in the films. Click here to visit www.cumberlandfolklife.com
America’s Appalachian region confronts a moment of great change. Historic shifts occur as technology enters these hollows and cabins of old, now seated alongside the ubiquitous Dollar General stores.
This project documents the artistic traditions that have flourished in this region. As a habitually impoverished region, documentation of Appalachia has often focused on the harsh living conditions inherent to such a poor economy. This project is not about that. Though not monetarily wealthy, this place is abundant with narrative impulses, manifested in songs, instrumental tunes, and hand-crafts. Put simply, necessity breeds creativity. This is our focus in the Cumberland Folklife series of documentary films. Today - in this project - we are looking at the Appalachian culture’s unique gifts, home-grown and fortified in spite of poverty, as they exist in the politically charged climate that permeates our contemporary American soil.
I first arrived in East Tennessee three years ago. As a recent graduate of Duke University’s MFA|EDA program, I was commissioned to spend two months in the Cumberland Plateau and the valleys down below. I knew little about what I’d be doing; I only knew I’d be making photographs and that it had something to do with musical heritage. After that first summer working for the renowned Bob Fulcher and the Cumberland Trail’s musical heritage project, I felt like I could not leave the friends I had so recently discovered, the budding relationships that had so touched my soul. Three years later, I’m still here.
Those budding relationships have evolved into near kinship. The films are a most intimate look at the individuals who have so welcomed me time and time again. Their voices deserve to be heard and need to be shared. There is a further sense of urgency to the work as the lives that spanned the 20th century dwindle into old age. Those born into America’s Great Depression are now fading from view.
This past year I received grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tennessee Art Commission to pursue this work. Today I am seeking the necessary funds to finish what I have begun - to preserve these stories for the canon of history – and to disseminate the work this upcoming year.
To find out more about these characters visit our "website trailer" www.cumberlandfolklife.com
PRODUCER / DIRECTOR - Rachel Boillot (b. 1987) is a photographer, documentary artist, and educator. She holds a BA in Sociology from Tufts University, a BFA in Photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. Boillot has recently served as a Visiting Lecturer in Photography at Duke University, Multimedia Documentarian for the Friends of the Cumberland Trail, and Assistant Producer at Sandrock Recordings. Boillot currently teaches in the Art Department at Lincoln Memorial University, directs the Cumberland Gap Folklife Project, and maintains her independent photography practice in East Tennessee. Her work has been funded by the Annenberg Foundation (Los Angeles, CA), the Riverview Foundation (Chattanooga, TN), the Tennessee Arts Commission (Nashville, TN), and the National Endowment for the Arts (Washington, D.C.). ARTIST PORTFOLIO
PRODUCER / CINEMATOGRAPHER - Kyle Wilkinson was born in Middletown, OH in 1984. He remained in the region until receiving his BFA in Motion Picture Production at Wright State University. After completing many award winning documentaries that largely focused on place and identity he obtained an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University. Kyle’s most recent work focuses on merging documentary and photography creating malleable works of art capable of being viewed in exhibit spaces as well as film festivals and the internet. ARTIST PORTFOLIO
ASSISTANT CAMERA / SOUND - Emma Koutny is a 2016 Broadcast Communications graduate of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. She was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, but has called East Tennessee her home since she was two years old. Since graduating from LMU she has been working on the Cumberland Gap Folklife Project.
CAMERA OPERATOR / INTERNSHIP MENTOR - Richard Vogel Assistant Professor and Program Director of Media Communication program at Lincoln Memorial University Rick Vogel has been teaching for 30 years. During that time he has been a writer, producer, and director for numerous corporate videos and a script consultant for an Emmy award-winning news program. With journalism as his first passion, working on this documentary series has allowed him to once again tap the creative and emotional side. He says that engaging with the people of Appalachia has been an honor as well as a reminder that no one is ever too old to learn to appreciate new experiences.
STAFF WRITER - Emily Welch A native of Tennessee's Powell Valley, Emily recently graduated from Lincoln Memorial University, earning her Bachelor's degree in English. Formerly an intern for the project, her role has expanded since her graduation in 2016. She looks forward to pursuing further coursework in Appalachian Studies and is using this position to work toward that goal.
INTERN - Carolina Souza Caroline Souza is from São Paulo, Brazil. She is a junior in Media Communications at Lincoln Memorial University and part of the Women's Soccer Team. She loves playing sports, reading, and being around my loved ones.
INTERN - Abigail Williamson Hailing from the hills of East Tennessee, Abigail is an enthusiastic student, photographer, and aspiring documentary filmmaker. She studies visuals arts and communication at Lincoln Memorial University, where she became connected with the Cumberland Gap Folklife Project. Abigail has had the opportunity to work alongside the team and hopes to continue learning. She regularly does missions documenting Honduras and plans to use the visual arts as a way to raise awareness and inspire change.
The Cumberland Gap Folklife Project has been generously funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to celebrate the respective anniversaries of the NEA and the National Parks System. It is a multipart fieldwork, educational, and public programming initiative centered on the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (CGNHP) and its gateway communities. Audio, photographic, and video documentation will showcase regional bearers of creative traditions, resulting in a formidable archive. A series of inter-generational apprenticeships have been established to ensure the longevity of these traditions, as well as funding jobs in an economically depressed rural setting. The materials gathered throughout this project will be carefully curated to result in an art exhibit, craft demonstrations, and musical performances on the occasion of the annual White Lightning Trail Festival in Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap Folk Life series of documentary films will share the fruits of our labor with an international audience.
It is unique and distinct from any other region in the nation. The mountain men and women of this region demonstrate unparalleled and ingenious responses to the rugged nature of their existence. They find their voice in creative response to the hardships of their being in unique, character-building methods of narrative. These voices can be found in art, handcrafts, music, a more formal storytelling, and the stories told simply at the post office. Yet, this culture is fading. In a world dominated by screens reflective of increased connectivity and perhaps decreased individual creativity, this heritage warrants renewed consideration.
As a young woman who was born and raised in the Appalachian hills of Tennessee, the importance of a project such as the CGFP is great. Traditions that have been passed down for countless generations are steadily beginning to fade away with each changing of hands. In order to maintain the artistic yet unwaveringly self-sufficient ways of this region, we must bring forth awareness and a strengthened sense of community. The act of capturing these mountains and their people—my mountains, my people—is one that stems from a growing urgency, one that has compelled all those involved with this project to preserve these fading pieces of heritage and history. - Emily Welch
Risks and challenges
Any documentary project of this scale comes with risks and challenges. We are entering people's lives and filming fluid ever changing events. With our years of experience, our team is equipped to meet any road block that lies ahead. As this film enters the second year of production we have proven our dedication to completing this important and engaging project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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