Explore diverse Southern identity at Carrboro Film Fest

Carrboro, just a stone’s throw from Durham and one of the best small towns in the US, is hosting the 17th annual Carrboro Film Fest Nov. 18 to Nov. 20 at The ArtsCenter

“The people [of Carrboro] are reflective and thoughtful. They love using art as a way of reflecting on and discussing society and relevant cultural issues,” said Bradley Bethel, director of the film festival. “One of the best things about Carrboro Film Fest has always been the enthusiasm that the audience brings,” 

The festival will feature nine blocks of film screening, with a feature film for Friday’s opening night at 7:30 p.m., over forty short films and documentaries and a closing documentary on Sunday starting at 4:15 p.m. The topics of films set for screening range from a family drama involving an affair to “the Holocaust survivor who inspired clowns” and from “a mysterious backyard hole with an anxious young boy” to environmental injustice related to cheap pork farming. 

The theme of the festival is “New Southern Film,” which seeks to “both celebrate and interrogate Southern culture.”

According to Bethel, Carrboro seeks out films that are either set in the South or that have a filmmaker from the region that brings their Southern perspective to the film. 

“There isn’t just one kind of ‘Southerness,’” Bethel said. The festival aims to expand anyone’s simplistic understanding of the South by showcasing the work of diverse filmmakers.

“This is multifaceted, and people express their Southern identities differently, depending on where they're coming from in the South, depending on their racial background, their political background, their religious background [and] even the sub regions within the South.” 

Bethel gave an example of a less-commonly seen Southern perspective show in one of the films: “We have a documentary called ‘CANS Can't Stand’ and it is about trans activists in Louisiana. The Southern trans identity is being explored in that film.”

For aspiring filmmakers and film enthusiasts, Bethel highlighted event blocks “Our Strange New Land,” “Southern Bodies”  and the closing night with screening of “The Smell of Money” and a Q&A with writer Jamie Berger. 

Feature documentary “The Smell of Money” has won multiple awards across various film festivals, including the Hot Docs Festival, Sarasota Film Festival and Sidewalk Film Festival. The documentary centers on environmental injustice. It tells the story of activist Elsie Herring, her community in Duplin and Sampson County, N.C. and their lengthy struggle against the reckless pollution by the pork industry.

Jamie Berger, writer and co-producer of “The Smell of Money” and N.C. native, became aware of the issue while studying at Chapel Hill.

“I was deeply disturbed by the level of injustice [caused by cheap pork farming] and wanted to devote myself to addressing that,” said Berger. 

It was a challenge to build a sense of trust and connection with Herring and members of her community at first, given the fear they had of the pork industry’s power and influence in the vocational field. Many residents have received intimidation or retaliation from the industry.

“We kept having to show that we were invested in joining this fight,” said Berger. “We had to listen to [how] they spoke about this issue and not come in with our own notions of how we wanted it to be told.”

The filmmakers also had to reckon with the inherent power dynamics of their white racial identity stepping into spaces with predominantly racial minorities, to think deliberately about how to show their stories in a non-exploitative way.

But all those barriers were worth it when the film was first shown in Rocky Mount, N.C., touching the lives of people who were directly impacted by the pork industry, honoring and validating their fight.

Additionally, Berger shared she was excited to have the documentary screened at Carrboro, a place she once called home.

Bethel echoed Berger in his excitement for the festival to serve as an opportunity to bring the communities of Carrboro and of the Triangle together.

The audience’s enthusiasm and an intimate setting is perfect for interaction between the audience and the filmmakers. Bethel remarked that there is “just a great synergy at Carrboro Film Fest.”

Carrboro Film Fest will be held from Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m. to Nov. 20, 6:00 pm at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Detailed events and tickets can be found here.

Katherine Zhong | Local Arts Editor

Katherine Zhong is a Trinity junior and local arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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