Please welcome the creative team of Kelley St. Germain and Scott Ballard from Germain Media. Kelley St. Germain is the driving force behind the award-winning “Visions of…” which is an ongoing series of 25 historical documentaries produced in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia in the last two years. Each 30 minute film tells the stories of real people and places in the North Carolina High Country.
“We began the series with the people of the High Country in mind as our target audience,” says St. Germain. “We wanted to produce something of true quality for THEM. We not only wanted to tell their stories and let them know that they were important, but also to reveal the details that are deeper and more meaningful than the narrative of Appalachia that currently exists in popular culture and mainstream media.”
The most revealing example of this search for respect and truth is in the recently debuted Germain Media film: Junaluska. The short film chronicles the history of the second-oldest African American community in Western North Carolina, and reveals an incredibly deep sense of community among the African Americans who grew up “on the hill” above Boone, NC.
“The shared experiences, the strength to persevere, and the importance of faith and family take center stage in this film as something to which any of us can relate,” says St. Germain. “Those attributes have the potential to bring us all closer together as a culture and as a society.
“While we acknowledge that the take-away from this film is going to be different for everyone, we believe the stories of small African American communities in Appalachia still need to be told as we learn more and more about them.”
As an exclusive for the followers of Appalachian History, Germain Media is offering this link to the Junaluska episode with the password germain99 for one week beginning with the posting of this article.
Says St. Germain: “We wanted to share the one moment when we knew the interview was bigger than the scope of the project: sitting down with Charity Gambill Gwyn in Alleghany County, NC. When we were doing research about who to talk to regarding Alleghany County history, the name Charity kept popping up. ‘When are you going to…’ and ‘Have you talked to Charity yet?’
“We usually have a set list of questions or topics because we want there to be at least some (!) continuity to the interviews we conduct, but room is left in each conversation to wander down paths heretofore unknown. It became quickly apparent in our talk with Charity that her personal history…her life story… was the true reason for everyone’s insistence about talking with her.”
“Growing up in a county where less than 5% of the population is black, Charity faced barriers and hurdles that very few of us can imagine. But guess what we found? We didn’t find bitterness or a caustic kind of cynicism. We found the bearer of goodwill and peace. Charity’s message of ‘bloom where you are planted’ struck us as profound.
“Given the proper mindset, a seed can germinate and grow, even on rocky soil. But that isn’t descriptive enough. That seed can grow and THRIVE! Charity did far more than go along to get along…she excelled! She was told that she couldn’t get elected to the school board or to the board of county commissioners, but, you guessed it, she trail blazed her way onto both.
“Her message of reaching beyond your grasp, not only to the African American community, but to all of us, is vitally important. Charity Gambill Gwyn is a beautiful human being and we want to get her message out to as many people as we can.”
The Twilight Zone moment: walking out of an interview with Uncle Bud Phillips outside of Spruce Pine. “I had spoken with ‘Uncle Bud’ a couple of times on the phone before Kelley, Tristan and I walked into his old lumber company office,” says Ballard, “but we were wholly unprepared for what was to follow. Bud, who died only months after our interview, had us literally transfixed over the next 90 minutes. He spoke in superlatives on any topic at hand (from mining to logging to various events in his life) and as we stumbled out of his office we weren’t sure what we had just witnessed.” Here is a clip of one of the many powerful moments Bud delivered.
“I come from Eastern Kentucky,” Ballard continues, “and so doing a ‘Visions of…’ episode on mines and mining in Avery County, NC hit home with me…reminded me of this Miner’s Prayer we recorded outside of the abandoned Cranberry Iron Mine in Avery County.
“The good book teaches us to be humble, to live in humility, and it was easy for us on so many occasions when people pulled back the curtain to their lives and spun their life stories.
“We were and continue to be honored when we are welcomed into home after home. One of the most poignant moments was when we were the beneficiaries of an impromptu music session.
“We had heard many stories of old time and bluegrass music being played house to house on the weekends, moving the furniture, rolling up the carpets and having a party in the parlor. During an interview one thing led to another and next thing you know, all of those things happened…here’s what it looked and sounded like.
“One of our most popular shows was on the 30+ miles of Blue Ridge Parkway that run through neighboring Alleghany (NC) county. Here’s a preview of that ‘Visions of…’ episode.
“As our crew has been filming interviews in the Appalachian Mountains over the past two years,” says St. Germain, “we have discovered that the people…the faces and places of Appalachia… are FAR different than what the mainstream media portrays. We are not interested in RUNNING AWAY from our heritage, instead, we want to EMBRACE it…the REAL people of Appalachia! We plan on showcasing folks who are tough-minded, fiercely independent, generous, family-oriented and devoted patriots…the BEST of Appalachia…oh, and did I mention these folks are great story tellers too?
“We’re also very excited about a Kickstarter project we’re starting in October,” says St. Germain. “We’re asking for any and all assistance and to share in our labor of love…we see this as a first step toward something greater and more long-lasting… continuing to tell the important stories of a part of the country that for too long has been ignored or just made fun of. If you’d like to join our Kickstarter campaign, please like our Facebook page because we will be sharing all campaign details there in real time.
St. Germain, originally from Owensboro, KY, grew up listening to fascinating stories told to him by his father and great-grandfather, often while fishing on and around the Ohio River. Throughout his journey, from the bluegrass of Kentucky, to gaining a master’s degree in American History at Wake Forest, to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge, he has always remained interested in a “good story.” Germain Media has become the vehicle through which he shares these stories with a nationwide audience that isn’t afraid to wonder how things were “Back When.”
Scott Ballard, who joined the company as a narrator and researcher early in 2013, hails from Middlesboro, KY and the Cumberland Gap, TN area. “I literally grew up in and around stacks of history books as I built forts using my great grandfather Kincaid’s library of books on Lincolnalia and Appalachia. Working the weekend shifts at the family-owned radio station WMIK, I saw and heard first-hand the people’s love of music and the pageant of giving glory to God in Appalachia,” added Ballard.
Germain Media Awards include: The 2014 NTCA TeleChoice Award for Local Video Content, plus The 2013 Paul Green Multimedia Award and being counted as a 2013 NC Family Film Festival Selection.
“Here is a production shot I took during the Character of the People episode of the Watauga ‘Visions of…’ series,” says Ballard. “It’s of Brian Fannon, and the back story is that while the photo is pretty neat, it was a misfire…or what you might literally call a ‘flash in the pan.’ The trigger ignited the pan but the fire did not reach the barrel and thus the rifle actually did not go off. Our goal at Germain Media is to keep telling the stories for the long haul…for the long term…we have no interest or desire to be a flash in the pan!”