Fanning The Fire, a new short documentary set to enter this season’s film festival circuit, uses the passion and excitement of a young Texas picker to demonstrate to audiences of any age what bluegrass music is all about.
Though it features snippets of interviews and live performances from noted artists like Dan Tyminski, JD Crowe, Rhonda Vincent, and Adam Steffey, the story is driven by Lucas White and his striving to become a serious bluegrass guitarist. It follows Lucas from his early interest in playing flatpick guitar at age 12, to seeing him go on to perform on stage over the course of three years.
Here’s a look at the trailer…
This 20 minute film is the brainchild of Alan Tompkins, a Dallas-area attorney, businessman and dabbler in the arts. Alan is a bluegrass player himself, who hosts the Bluegrass Heritage Radio Show each Sunday morning on KHYI-FM 95.3. He is also active in the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, including the management of their annual Bluegrass Heritage Festival in March.
The idea for a bluegrass-themed film came to him through his other volunteer work in the local arts community.
“Dallas has a number of film festivals, and I served on the board of one of them. I’ve spent a decade on these festival boards, and understand how they work. I’ve probably screened about a hundred films, and have developed a decent feel for what’s good and what’s not.
Being at bluegrass festivals, I would see so many exciting scenes that would be inspiring on film. And I wondered ‘why don’t they make documentaries about something like this?’
So Tompkins hired an HD film crew at his own expense, and shot footage during a 2008 festival without a script or a plan. He continued to grab footage at regional events, including interviews with touring artists about their love for the music.
Alan said that all of the footage was good, but that the project was floundering without a sense of direction until two milestones in 2010. The first was a chance meeting with Dallas filmmaker, videographer and novice bluegrass picker David Seay.
David said that he had only been beating around on guitar for a year when he discovered the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation.
“I had really gotten into bluegrass music and decided to contact the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation to lend my services as a producer if ever there was a need. Alan Tompkins got the e-mail, checked out my website, called me back and said that as a matter of fact, there is something we might do.
This project has only strengthened my love of bluegrass and my passion for becoming a better player.”Tompkins and Seay looked over all the existing footage, and shot a bunch more, but Alan credits his wife Julie for coming up with the concept that would tie it all together.
Any film needs a story arc, and we had just finished the Farmers Branch festival in October 2010 where Lucas and his young band played. My wife saw how excited he was to be at the festival and meet the various artists, and thought: ‘there’s your rags to riches story… Watching him go from an excited 12 year old kid to opening the festival in 3 years time.’
Lucas is a very personable kid, who is also a hot guitar picker. He is like the bus driver of the movie – he explains bluegrass, what it is, where it came from – but it’s really a vehicle for introducing bluegrass to a non-bluegrass audience.”
Fanning The Fire is now completed, and Alan says it has already been submitted to 20 film festivals across the country. He plans to send it to several dozen more in the next few months, and thinks that festival audiences will be pleasantly surprised by the impact of the film.
“They’ll come to see a feel-good 20 minute short, and be hit with some fantastic, high-energy bluegrass music. Maybe they’ll be inspired to come out to a festival to check it out, and become one of us.”
Though he financed the early part of the project, Tompkins said they recently received a $2500 grant from the Foundation For Bluegrass Music. Part of that is in support of the educational aspect of the film’s purpose.
“We will give copies of the DVD to the Foundation for use in their Bluegrass In The Schools program. We’ll also make them available for music educators to show in class. While learning something about American culture in a short film, the kids will see someone their own age take them on this journey of how he came along as a bluegrass picker, and what the music means to him.”
And that’s a feel-good story if I ever heard one!