Program Notes: Kannapolis – A Moving Portrait
Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait
Music by Jenny Scheinman
Film by Finn Taylor
All footage shot by H. Lee Waters between 1936–1942
Wednesday, June 1, 2022 | 7:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall
Jenny Scheinman — Composer, Arranger, Violin, Vocals
Robbie Fulks — Guitar, Banjo, Vocals
Robbie Gjersoe — Resonator Guitar, Baritone Electric Guitar, Vocals
Finn Taylor — Film Director
Rick LeCompte — Film Editor
Trevor Jolly — Sound Designer
Booking: Sue Bernstein, Bernstein Artists
Management: Elizabeth Penta, Emcee Artist Management
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Masks are no longer required for indoor performances but are strongly recommended.
The songs in order of appearance:
City Of Looms
The Littlest Prisoner
I’ll Trade You Money For Wine
Just A Lie
Up On Shenanigan
Bug In The Honey
Deck Saw, Porch Saw
* All music and lyrics by Jenny Scheinman except “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine” (Robbie Fulks), “Just A Lie” (Si Kahn), and “The Mill” (Joe Glaser/Beth Weil).
About Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait
H. Lee Waters (1902-1997) was a journeyman portrait photographer in Lexington, North Carolina, whose business fell on hard times during the Great Depression. He came up with another plan to make a living: make regular people into movie stars! He got hold of a movie camera and travelled to towns throughout the Piedmont region. He would film as many people as possible in public places, then return several weeks later to show the footage in the towns’ movie theaters. People flocked to see themselves on the silver screen.
Waters had several regular setups: people streaming out of workplaces, children running toward the camera, playground games, dancing, and close portraits. He also used several simple camera tricks such as fast and slow motion, reverse motion, and split screen to enliven the material. Of the process, Waters explained: “In the year 1936 when I started making Movies Of Local People we were in the midst of the Depression. Regular people didn’t have a salary to justify spending money on entertainment, but it came to my mind that they would like to see themselves on the screen like movie stars out of Hollywood.” His hare-brained venture was successful, and between 1936 and 1942 he worked tirelessly to create 118 movies, compiling one of the most comprehensive documents that we have of American life at that time.
In December of 2009, Aaron Greenwald, executive director of Duke Performances, sent me a DVD containing a few of Waters’ films (archived at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University) and proposed that I put together a performance based on his work. The first film I watched was shot in Kannapolis, NC, on a clear day in the fall of 1941, a few months before the U.S. entered WWII. There was much about the footage that was unfamiliar to me—the era, the region, the look of the world before the age of cellphones—but there was a palpable joy and strength in the film that reached out from the past and grabbed me. It was like seeing ghosts in perfect focus.
I wrote and collected over three hours of music for the film, including fiddle tunes, narrative songs, labor songs, and lyrics. With the guidance of director Finn Taylor, I then narrowed that down to only the material that clicked with the footage and underscored main themes—labor, community, dancing, film, industry, and childhood. Then Taylor and editor Rick LeCompte combed through Waters’ catalog and re-edited the strongest material into an hour-long film, using my music as the foundation.
Taylor writes, “Waters’ method was to record myriad moments throughout the community. The sum of these gives a panorama of a town at a specific time in history. In our re-edited treatment, we slow shots down to let the viewer linger on a furtive glance. We also repeat certain faces, revisit sequences, and juxtapose them against contrasting images.”
To the virgin ear, “Kannapolis” evokes some sort of iconic city, perhaps the home of a forgotten superhero or the cradle of some parallel civilization. It was called the “City of Looms,” home to Cannon Mills, once the largest employer of textile workers in the country. Its workers were laid off in 2003 — the biggest layoff in North Carolina history—and its factory buildings were demolished in 2006. As we wove together the various elements of the project—Waters’ footage with my music, the past with the present, footage from numerous sources of varying types and quality, black and white people, the southeast with my northwest—we used the image of the loom as the organizing principle.
These are America’s home movies. They contain a clue to our nature, an imprint of our ancestry. They were shot before Americans had sophisticated understanding of film, and capture truthfulness that one is hard-pressed to find in this day and age, now that we are immersed in a world of social media, video, and photography. These people can dance. Girls catapult each other off seesaws and teenage boys hang on each others’ arms. Toothless men play resonator guitars on street corners, and toddlers push strollers through empty fields. They remind us of our resilience, and of our immense capacity for joy even in the hardest of times.
About the Musicians
Jenny Scheinman is a violinist, fiddler, singer, and writer of songs with and without words. She grew up on a homestead in Northern California and has been performing since she was a teenager. She has worked extensively with some of the most innovative jazz artists in the world such as Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Nels Cline, and Marc Ribot. She has also toured and recorded with numerous American songwriting legends such as Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Rodney Crowell, Robbie Fulks, Lou Reed, and Ani Difranco. In March of 2015 she premiered a multi-media performance at Duke University entitled Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait which she continues to present in theaters around the country. She has released eight albums of original music: Here On Earth, The Littlest Prisoner, Mischief & Mayhem, Jenny Scheinman, Crossing The Field, 12 Songs, Shalagaster, The Rabbi’s Lover, and Live At Yoshi’s. In the fall of 2019 she released an eponymous album with her band Parlour Game which she co-leads with drummer Allison Miller.
Robbie Fulks is a musician, singer, and songwriter. He helped found the “alternative country” movement of the 1990s with his earliest records. His most recent, Upland Stories, earned two Grammy nominations, for Folk Album and Best American Roots Song. As performer: Fresh Air, A Prairie Home Companion, Grand Ole Opry, Austin City Limits, Today Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Last Call with Carson Daly, 30 Rock. As producer: George Jones, Mavis Staples, Linda Gail Lewis, Dallas Wayne. As songwriter: Sam Bush, Andrew Bird, Rosie Flores, John Cowan, Mollie O’Brien, Old 97s. As sideman: Liz Carroll, Dr. John, Otis Clay, Michael Shannon, Jenny Scheinman.
Robbie Gjersoe is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, songwriter, and occasional engineer and producer who has worked on a variety of musical projects wide-ranging in style and content for the last 30 years. He plays guitar, bottleneck slide, resonator, dobro, baritone ukulele, mandolin, nylon string, cavaquinho, viole, 12-string, lap steel, pedal steel, and bass. With Screen Door Music, which he co-created, he has composed and performed soundtracks for many films including Grand Champion, Robbing Peter, and Vanishing of the Bees. His music was used in the movie The Hot Flashes and the TV show The Mentalist.
About the Filmmakers
Director, Finn Taylor is a three-time Sundance Film Festival alumni. His titles include The Darwin Awards starring Winona Ryder and Joseph Fiennes; Cherish, starring Robin Tunney and Tim Blake Nelson, selected for the Dramatic competition in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, bought and distributed by Fineline Features and Canal Plus; Dream With the Fishes, starring David Arquette, Brad Hunt, Kathryn Erbe, and Cathy Moriarty, selected for American Spectrum in the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, bought and distributed by Sony Picture Classics and Lakeshore Entertainment; Unleashed, starring Sean Astin, Justin Chatwin, Steve Howey, Kate Micucci, received seven festival audience awards, bought and distributed by Blue Fox Entertainment and Voltage Pictures, also by Netflix and multiple streaming platforms in 2016. Variety, in its 50th Anniversary edition, selected Taylor for its prestigious list of “The Top 20 Creatives to Watch.” Mr. Taylor's latest film, Avenue of the Giants, starring Stephen Lang, Elsie Fisher, and Robin Weigert, currently in production, filming in Mill Valley and Prague in 2022.
Editor Rick LeCompte works professionally in the San Francisco Bay area and in Los Angeles. He worked on NBC’s documentary miniseries Ocean Quest produced by Guber/Peters and directed by Al Giddings. Independent feature films include Dream With the Fishes, Haiku Tunnel, Cherish, and The Darwin Awards, all premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before playing theatrically worldwide. The feature length documentary The Loss of Nameless Things was an official selection at AFI Silverdocs Festival, and was broadcast by PBS on Independent Lens. The documentary This Dust of Words was broadcast on PBS’ Truly California series. His latest feature, Sold, is based on the novel by Patricia McCormick.
Trevor Jolly is a motion picture sound designer, sound supervisor, and film editor. He worked on major feature films including the Academy Award-winning American Beauty and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A frequent award-winner, including MPSE awards and numerous MPSE nominations, Trevor has also been recognized with an Emmy nomination for his sound supervision on the TV series Lost. Select film credits include: Sound supervisor for Youth in Revolt (Miguel Arteta/Weinstein Productions), Resurrecting the Champ (Rod Lurie/Phoenix Productions), Pathfinder (Marcus Nispel/21st Century Fox), Hairy Tale (Harry Basil/Warner Bros - Franchise), The Whole Ten Yards (Howard Deutch/Warner Bros - Franchise), Halloween: Resurrection (Rick Rosenthal/Miramax - Dimension Films), Highlander: Endgame (Doug T. Aarniokoski/ Miramax - Dimension). He was also sound editor for Monster’s Ball (Marc Forster/Lions Gate Films), and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg/Amblin Entertainment).
Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait was commissioned and developed by Duke Performances, and is the first in a series of works entitled “From The Archives.” Waters’ archive is provided by the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Made possible, in part, with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts; a grant from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation; a grant from New Music USA; a Visiting Artist Grant from the Council for the Arts, Office of the Provost, Duke University; support from the Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University; and a gift from Neil D. Karbank.
Special thanks to the family of H. Lee Waters for providing access to his spectacular films.
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