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182 Southern Transformations Three Documentary Films by Anne Lewis anne lewis leigh anne duck Introduction leigh anne duck When I learned that Jodi Skipper and Michele Coffey had invited Anne Lewis to present a paper at their symposium Transforming New South Identities, I congratulated them on their brilliance: though better known in Appalachian than in southern studies, Lewis has been making vital documentaries about social and economic change in the region for decades. I came to know her work while looking for resources on globalization and the U.S. South, and Morristown: In the Air and Sun (2007) delivers. Combining the stories of Ten‑ nessean and Mexican workers seeking to navigate changing political regula‑ tions and economic circumstances, it provides insights into familial, union, and corporate cultures, into the efforts of workers to organize for better work‑ ing conditions and to achieve better cross-­ cultural understanding, and even into macroeconomic forces. To me it has stood out as a model for engaged scholarship: it provides information people can use in a format they can ap‑ preciate.1 Accordingly, this chapter on transdisciplinarity combines Lewis’s sym‑ posium essay, which discussed her motivations and methods in three of her films, with alternating sections in which I explore parallels between these documentaries and scholarly research. I consider Anne Braden: Southern Patriot (2012) in relation to debates over documentary representation and the question of how to render a film compelling as well as informative. Morristown and Justice in the Coalfields (1995) illuminate the dichotomy between efforts to represent cultural traditions and the challenges of depicting societies in the midst of transformation. By contextualizing Lewis’s work in relation to documentary theory and history—especially concerning Appalshop, the film collective with which she has long been associated—I hope to demonstrate southern transformations 183 how these films speak to methodological questions in academic research as well, particularly how to conceptualize relationships between space, time, and identity, and how to present knowledge in ways invigorating for our stu‑ dents and publics. Declaration anne lewis I start with an Austin, Texas (ATX), Declaration in the spirit of Werner Her‑ zog’s Minnesota Declaration, in which he attacks cinema verité as being “de‑ void of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.”2 My Austin, Texas (ATX), Declaration on Southern Documentary Film states: 1. No character who speaks English should be subtitled in English. (It’s okay if you subtitle everyone.) 2. To ask a question when you know the answer is the truth of lawyers. 3. It is impossible to simply observe the truth. Cinema verité provokes the truth. 4. Never ask the subject to rephrase your question. 5. Members of the Republican Party must not be allowed near cameras. 6. No southern documentary film should cost more than a modest house. 7. The best documentary subjects are penguins. That creates a problem for southern filmmakers unless they live very far south indeed. 8. The best southern documentary filmmaker lived in Berkeley Hills. 9. Every southern documentary film is about race except for those set in Appalachia, which are about class and sometimes race too. 10. Any southern documentary film worth its salt has violence, sex, and lack of articulation. That’s why we call each other’s films stereotypical. 11. Southern documentary film budgets should rarely include air travel. 12. Don’t hire vegans for southern shoots. Although my content is almost opposite, I follow Herzog’s form. I criticize the great maker of Grizzly Man because cinema verité is what inspired me to make films. So I figure that if Herzog could indulge himself so deeply, I should as well—in the spirit of freedom of speech and the silliness that comes from generalities. 184 lewis and duck Illuminating Truths, Engaging Viewers leigh anne duck However intensely Anne Lewis and Werner Herzog disagree about cinema verité, they share a taste for manifestos that combine distinctive wit with documentary wisdom.3 Herzog’s version (which pauses to contemplate the efforts of Minnesota’s governor at the time, ex‑wrestler Jesse Ventura, to con‑ tend with a rash of snowmobiling accidents even Ventura regards as “stupid”) posits a “poetic, ecstatic truth” against the “superficial[ity]” of mere “facts,” which can seem as banal and uninformative as “stones” or, at their most re‑ velatory, appear so “strange and bizarre” as to be “unbelievable.” Though he attributes the obsession with facts to cinema verité—by which he actually appears to mean more narrowly “direct...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820351087
Related ISBN
9780820351070
MARC Record
OCLC
999637765
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-23
Language
English
Open Access
No
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