Our Town, North Carolina

Robbins, North Carolina. Photograph by Clifton Dowell Robbins, North Carolina. Photograph by Clifton Dowell

A Dispatch from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University 

We teach, produce, and present the documentary arts—nonfiction audio, film/video, photography, writing, and experimental and new media. That’s a brief summation of all of the many activities, projects, and works of the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS).

As far as the teaching part, our students are all ages, from all backgrounds and levels of experience, and the works they produce range as far afield in terms of medium and subject matter. For this installment of The By and By, we’re focusing on film students from two of our programs—Continuing Education and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival—and the videos that they produce that are set in North Carolina towns.

—Liz Phillips, CDS Communications Director 

2017 10 05 CDS2Anytown USA screening in Roseboro, North Carolina. Photograph by Randolph Benson.

CDS’s Anytown USA course is a perennial favorite; the advanced video seminar is one of the hundred or so Continuing Education courses that we offer annually to adults interested in making their own documentary work. Created and taught by award-winning filmmaker Randolph Benson, the class explores the rural towns and communities of North Carolina, many of which have been transformed by urban flight and the exodus of manufacturing. Working with residents in a different small town each spring, each student chooses a topic and produces and edits an eight- to twelve-minute video. These intermediate to advanced filmmakers are encouraged to explore genre, technique, form, and their own artistic vision in creating their short documentary films. Collectively, the students’ work forms a nuanced, intimate portrait of communities as they struggle to survive. The completed videos are presented to local residents—there have been screenings in municipal buildings, town commons, baseball fields, churches—and hundreds of people attend. Feedback is near universal: In listening to the stories of their fellow residents, audience members have gained a deeper understanding of the impact of political, social, and cultural issues on their family, friends, neighbors, and fellow community members.

The following “Anytown USA” highlight video was created by Randolph Benson. Go to our Anytown USA channel to watch more student videos set in different North Carolina towns.

The Continuing Education program offers on-site and online classes year-round, including summer intensives. Registration remains open for some Fall 2017 classes; see this timetable of current courses. Spring and Summer 2018 classes, including Anytown USA, will be announced in November.

2017 10 05 CDS3A School of Doc student films at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina. Photograph by Corey Adams.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s groundbreaking School of Doc highlights the program’s year-round mission in action: to make documentary film more accessible to a wider audience. A brainchild of festival director Deirdre Haj, the free five-week summer filmmaking camp is open to any student in grades 9–12 in our local Durham Public Schools. The only prerequisite for applicants is a love of film and storytelling. Students are taught by professional filmmakers, and given the opportunity to learn from visiting mentors like Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams (see his recent IndieWire story about School of Doc). Coursework includes all technical elements of the craft—camera, lights, sound, editing, and special effects—as well as pre- and post-production considerations such as rights and clearances, graphics and credits. The high schoolers work as a crew, choose their own subject in or around Durham—often a nonprofit organization or individuals making an impact—and produce a professional documentary film that they premiere at the end of camp to a packed Full Frame Theater. And every School of Doc cohort attends the following spring’s Full Frame festival free of charge, where they visit with acclaimed filmmakers and present the film as part of the festival’s free programming. Their filmmaker instructors supervise the students throughout the four-day event.

Enjoy the 2017 School of Doc film, Know Wonder: The Museum of Life and Science, which will be presented during the 2018 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 5–8.  

The School of Doc is generously supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Baskerville Fund at the Triangle Community Foundation, the Fenhagen Family and Helen’s Fund, IBM, and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

This installment of The By and By is curated by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS). CDS is dedicated to documentary expression and its role in creating a more just society. A nonprofit affiliate of Duke University, CDS teaches, produces, and presents the documentary arts across a full range of media—photography, audio, film, writing, experimental and new media—for students and audiences of all ages. CDS is renowned for innovative undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education classes; the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; curated exhibitions; international prizes; award-winning books; radio programs and a podcast; and groundbreaking projects. For more information, visit the CDS website

Enjoy this story? Read more at The By and By and subscribe to the Oxford American