Media Scene

Public TV in Carolinas puts focus on regional documentaries

Randy Lewis, an Alamance farmer, tries to keep both his dairy and the rural tradition of a barn dance alive in “The Last Barn Dance.”
Randy Lewis, an Alamance farmer, tries to keep both his dairy and the rural tradition of a barn dance alive in “The Last Barn Dance.”

In a rare collaboration in the mold of the PBS series “POV,” both state public TV networks in the Carolinas will launch a series in January highlighting the work of independent filmmakers from the region.

“Reel South” will air on SC ETV and UNC-TV for four weeks. It begins with a 30-minute documentary from producer Ted Richardson called “The Last Barn Dance,” about Randy Lewis, an Alamance County dairy farmer struggling to keep his business afloat while keeping alive the tradition of an annual old-timey barn dance.

In the second half hour will be “Tommy! The Dreams I Keep Inside Me” from director Rodrigo Dorfman about Tommy Onorato, a golden-voiced 60-year-old with autism who harbors a lifelong dream to sing with a Big Band.

In following weeks:

▪  “Cotton Road,” which follows South Carolina cotton from the field to factories in China and back down the supply chain.

▪  “Can’t Stop the Water” about a Native American community washing away in Louisiana.

▪  “Counter Histories: Rock Hill,” about the lunch counter sit-ins by the Friendship 9 in 1961.

▪  “Bending Sticks,” about artist Patrick Dougherty who creates monumental sculptures out of saplings.

“Reel South” grew out of a desire to showcase the work of independent producers across the Carolinas, says Shannon Vickery, UNC-TV’s director of production. Meetings were held with producers in Winston-Salem, Charlotte, the Triangle and Wilmington.

“We learned there is a lot of fantastic work happening with independent producers,” she says, “and a need to get that material distributed in North Carolina and beyond.”

“Reel South” was created with the cooperation of Columbia-based SC ETV and the Southern Documentary Fund in Durham.

It comes at a time when Charlotte’s independent public TV station, WTVI (Channel 42), has stepped away from an annual slate of independent documentaries as it regains its financial balance and concentrates on its in-house-produced series like “Carolina Impact.”

“We would love to be able to have this as a yearly series and expand beyond six episodes and include more stations,” says Vickery, who has been with UNC-TV for 20 years.

“There is a lot of talent here. They’re doing great projects, innovative work, telling stories about communities. We want to play a bigger role in getting the word out and showcasing and distributing their work.”

‘Reel South’

A series of documentaries by independent regional producers runs for four weeks and debuts:

▪  In North Carolina, 9 p.m. Monday on UNC-TV (Channel 58, Concord).

▪  In South Carolina, 9 p.m. Jan. 28 on SC ETV (Channel 30, Rock Hill).