Fiddlin’ film heads out to the festivals

The film festivals, that is.

Fiddlin’, a documentary project about the culture and the people at the Old Fiddlers Convention, held in Galax, VA each year, is finished and will be entered in a number of film festivals starting this month. The brainchild of a pair of sisters from nearby Hillsville, who recall the convention from their youth, the film was directed by Julie Simone, and produced by Vicki Vlasic.

They recently shared some thoughts with us about the project, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, a grant from the Rogovy Foundation, and donations from a number of private producers.

“We began this journey more than two years ago and as women filmmakers, we sought out and recruited as many women as we could to join the team. Our producers include Jill Mazursky, Jill Sorensen, Una Jackman, Rita Edlein, JoAnn Weisel, Lynn C. Levy and Jacqueline Esther Williams – 9 of our 13 producers are women. Our daughters and nieces worked as crew and our production intern is Brooke Ballard, a film student at Chapman University. We, of course, did not exclude men from the project and have great men in both producer roles and as working crew including our sons and nephews. To say that it was a ‘family affair’ would be an understatement and we are so grateful to all of them.

In addition to the magical music of our Appalachian musicians, the film was scored by composer, Nicholas Pike, who has written music for more than 25 films. His original music adds a powerfully emotional element to the film’s story. The film could not have been completed without the magical touch of editor, Janice Hampton, who also has an impressive list of credits to her name including the recent documentary, For the Love of Spock, Hairspray, Rocky II, 41 and many others. The final team was rounded out by music editor Jonathan Miller, and sound mixing at the incredible sound stage of John Ross.

The true heroes of the film, of course, are the musicians who gave their time and opened their hearts to us on camera. While the list is extensive, I would like to especially thank Wayne Henderson, Presley Barker, Dori Freeman, Kitty Amaral, Eddie Bond, Karen Carr, Martha Spencer, Annabelle Watts, Ivy Phillips, Uma Peters, Girl Peters and Virginia’s state folklorist, Jon Lohman. For fans of old time and bluegrass music, there will be many familiar faces in the film, including moments with Bill Monroe and never before seen footage of Doc Watson.”

Vicki and Julie are planning to take Fiddlin’ to as many film festivals as will accept them, hoping to both appraise the audience for the project, and to find a distributor who might help get it shown in arthouse theaters and possibly into one of the several popular television services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.

A promo trailer is now available which is being used in their applications for film festivals, the first of which is coming up at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in California, March 13-18.

Julie and Vicki feel that making this film involved a certain conspiracy of fate, with all the many parts falling into place just as they needed to.

“We have been very fortunate in the process of making this film and the stars aligned at many points on our journey, from getting permission to film at the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, to meeting Leon Frost who in turn introduced us to Wayne Henderson. We practically stumbled onto then 11 year old Presley Barker and were captivated by not only his remarkable ability on guitar, but his sweet, humble nature. We were invited into the homes of Leon Frost, Karen Carr, Eddie Bond and to Willard Gayheart’s shop where we met more and more great musicians and heard their stories.

Wayne Henderson mentors many of the youth who are seen in the film and helps raise money for scholarships for them through his own festival. His relationship with young Presley is especially endearing and to see the two of them on stage together in the final moments of the guitar awards ceremony will capture your heart. As I mentioned, the stars aligned. In a documentary, you have no script and you don’t know how the story will end. In this case, we could not have scripted a better ending.”

It looks like this crew has captured a piece of the magic that anyone who has ever attended the Galax festival has witnessed. There are plenty of other long standing fiddlers conventions, but Galax is something unique to itself.

To keep up to date with festival screenings, you can follow the Fiddlin’ team on Facebook or Instagram.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.