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South County documentary film underway

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Wanted: good storytellers.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Wanted: good storytellers.

Not the fictional kind. Not merely book readers, please. And not exactly yarn spinners good at embroidering history, either.

But, rather anyone anywhere in South Hillsborough with camera presence and factual knowledge of the region’s particular historic aspects or specific takes on its present or cogent thoughts about its future now is in demand for the second ArtReach Community Arts project here.

The first ArtReach project is the “BLT” or “Best Little Town” mural on the north side of the structure that once housed a barbershop on U.S. 41 in downtown Ruskin, immediately south of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce office.

The film project, kicked off last month, is a video documentary aimed at capturing essences of the various diverse communities that comprise the South County region, according to Michael Parker, muralist and ArtReach program director. And those communities are not only geographic, but also occupational, social as well as cultural, he noted.

The video production is being undertaken by Shawn Cheatham, an artist who currently teaches in the School of Art and Art History at the University of South Florida. Cheatham, a USF graduate who earned a Masters in Fine Art, has exhibited his video work both nationally and internationally, in such venues as the New York Short Film Festival and the Tromanaic Festival, Berlin, Germany, Parker said.

The final video product is “envisioned as a constellation of individual stories and histories of the people who define the area, intertwined with poetic images of the unique landscape,” he added. In order to give viewers “an insight into the dynamic and complex atmosphere” of the South County, the film is to investigate “the lives of its diverse and eclectic inhabitants,” Parker explained.

The process intended to reach that end result began with an exercise in identifying key aspects of the region with single-word definitions. From the dozens upon dozens of words contributed by area residents during two community meetings to characterize the area from their perspectives, five emerged as the most frequently mentioned, Parker said. These five identifiers – tomato, drive-in, community, migrant and history - are the first five themes to be pursued as the video documentary begins to take shape, he added.

Therefore, anyone in the area comfortable in front of the camera and able to talk freely about the South County’s role in tomato farming, packing, marketing, about the area’s connection to its surviving drive-in theater and its former drive-in eateries, about the sense of community that knits together the area’s many small, different communities created by occupational, cultural or locational interests, about the arrival and integration of migrants attracted to the area or about the South County’s rich historical record from the native Indians and first Spanish conquistadors through its farming and ranching colonists to its emergence as contemporary suburbia could become the documentary’s first story tellers, the ArtReach director indicated.

Cheatham’s style, Parker noted, is to ask on camera a question or two of the interviewee related to his or her area of knowledge and then figuratively step back, letting the speaker carry the discourse to a logical conclusion. Cheatham also sometimes incorporates techniques pioneered by academy award-winning film maker Errol Morris, Parker said. Morris is a well known and widely recognized feature documentary film maker and director whose work often is not confined by conventional standards.

Background shots of sites and settings indicative of the South County landscape currently are being collected, Parker noted. No specific date for wrapping up the local documentary has been set, he added, because to some extent the length and direction of the film will be driven by its content.

The film project is being organized by the ArtReach Community Arts Program under sponsorship by the SouthShore Arts Council and the USF School of Art and Art History. Anyone interested in participating can contact Parker via email at Ruskincommunityart@gmail.com.

Parker described the documentary as a “unique opportunity” for South County citizens able “to tell a good story – past, present or future”.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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