Student-produced documentary films of historic Appalachian community
CLEMSON — An interdisciplinary group of Clemson students Saturday will showcase their original video productions about a small Appalachian community in Pickens County known as Liberia, which was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War and remains occupied by their descendants nearly two centuries later. The films were shot during the October 2013 Soapstone Baptist Church fish fry, a well-known fundraising event that happens every month there.
“The church is the core of a community that was created by freed slaves who were given or bought land in what was probably a not-so-valuable part of the Oolenoy River Valley,” said Clemson anthropology professor John “Mike” Coggeshall. “It’s a tiny little church of people who have struggled to maintain ownership of this land for over 150 years. It’s a unique chapter in American history.”
The fish fry happens on the third Saturday of every month to raise money to sustain the church. Meredith Mccarroll, director of the Clemson Writing Center, came up with the idea of joining some of her English students with some of Coggeshall’s anthropology students in a Creative Inquiry program that would document the event in a film.
“We did the Creative Inquiry together,” said Coggeshall. “We met once a week, went to the fish fry a couple of times and in October 2013 the students did most of the filming.”
The seven Clemson students filmed, edited and produced three short (five-minute) videos about the fish fry. The process allowed the students to examine a close-knit Appalachian community while learning the methods and ethics of creating documentary films and the techniques and artistry of editing raw film into a comprehensive final product.
The students learned much more than how to make a film, said Danielle Capps, a senior anthropology student.
“I thought I would just learn how to create a documentary, but getting to know the people and experiencing that moment when they share something personal and moving with you, that was inspirational,” she said. “They’ve persevered through so much over time. You get this living example of these wonderful people and it’s really encouraging.”
The students went into the project without any prior experience in filmmaking, but the end results are astounding, said Mccarroll.
“If you zoom in and focus on any small group of people that have formed a community you will find goodness,” she said. “But especially with this community because of the way they’ve persevered and evolved with such positivity. These films really capture the diversity, the energy, the enthusiasm and the optimism of this community.”
It was a profound experience for everyone involved, she added.
“I wanted to introduce students to some ideas about the racial history of Appalachia as well as get them some hands-on experience making a short documentary film. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with this community the way I did.”
As a gift to the community members who shared their lives with them, the students will return the videos to the Soapstone Baptist Church after the showings in the hopes that they can be used to raise money and awareness for the church for years to come.
The Soapstone Baptist Church is located at 296 Liberia Road in Pickens. The fish fry happens from noon until 8 p.m. Visitors are welcome. Screenings of the student films will run continuously from noon until 3 p.m.
Orders for the videos may be accepted at the fish fry or by contacting Coggeshall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-656-3822.