The Triangle

Located in the heart of North Carolina, the Triangle is an area defined by the cities at its three points (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh) and the universities within it (the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina State). Each point of the Triangle is about half an hour away from the others.

In recent years other cities in the state, such as Wilmington (on the coast, east of the Triangle) and Asheville (in the mountains west of the Triangle), have become popular locations for Hollywood films. These towns are far more film industry dependent than the Triangle, because the studio spaces and rental houses need sustained business. But in the Triangle, with its heavy concentration of universities, the film community is firmly staking out indie ground with screening series, film festivals, and production projects.


The Empowerment Project

Shortly after Barbara Trent and David Kasper won an Oscar for the film The Panama Deception, they moved their headquarters from Santa Monica, California, to Chapel Hill. In 1984, Trent and Kasper cofounded the Empowerment Project.

“Its purpose is to work towards democratizing access to the media, and to provide the resources necessary to put the power of media in the hands of individuals and organizations working to further important human purposes,” according to the organization’s website. True to its mission, the Empowerment Project provides low-cost training and access to video and computer facilities in Chapel Hill.

Internships with the Empowerment Project offer the opportunity to have a comprehensive documentary production experience. Interns come from all over the world and work in research, grantwriting, community organizing, production, or postproduction.

Current projects include: A Day of Resistance, a series of pieces dealing with community reaction in New York’s Union Square following September 11, many calling for peace, not simply retribution; Is War the Answer? which covers public outcry against US aggression in the Mideast; Iraq, a look at the effects of sanctions; Maud Gatewood: Out of the South, a biographical profile of the North Carolina artist; and The Final Gift, a documentary which looks at the aging process in the US, with the intention of improving the way our culture deals with the elderly.

Freewater Productions

Freewater Productions is dedicated to the production of short Super 8 and 16mm films. A series of training workshops, access to equipment, and small filmmaking grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 make their goal a reality.

This student-run cooperative is housed at Duke University and funded by student activities fees, but is not affiliated with any university academic department. It is also open to members of the community at large, in addition to students. Anyone can learn about and play a part in any aspect of the filmmaking process. Their web page says it best: “Freewater Productions. Guerilla cinema with a vengeance.”

The Carolina Production Guild

Similar to Freewater Productions, the Carolina Production Guild is student-run and is open to all members of the community. Making its home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Guild is also funded by student activities fees from the university. The guild offers workshops and loans of 16mm film equipment, a Final-Cut Pro system, and provides one production grant ($1,000 to $2,000) a semester to the screenplay which wins a majority of the members’ vote. The Carolina Production Guild then produces that film, and all members are welcome to take a part in the production process.

The Center for Documentary Studies

Founded in 1989, the Center for Documentary Studies “connects the arts and humanities to fieldwork, drawing upon photography, filmmaking, oral history, folklore, and writing as catalysts for education and change,” according to a Duke News Service press release. With respect to film and video work, the center is a resource for area university students as a cosponsor for courses at Duke University. Through the Duke Contin-uing Education program, anyone from the local community can receive a certificate in documentary studies.

The center also offers the “Literacy Through Photography” program, which trains teachers and children from the Durham area in the use of cameras and the written word. Other projects include “Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South,” a major historical research project which has gathered over 1,000 oral history interviews and photographs.

Tar Heel Films

This website is a great regional re-source. You can find information regarding area festivals, screenings, and independent workshops. Also, all manner of film productions, ranging from industrials to independents to commercials, post their actor and crew needs on this site.

Screening Series

A/V Geeks

The A/V Geek was the kid in school (usually a boy) who got the hall pass so he could go get the audio-visual equipment for the class. Not only did he pick it up from the basement, he also always managed to get it running, no matter how old or recalcitrant the projector was.

Skip Elsheimer has turned this high school calling into an art. He has purchased, rescued, and collected more than 8,000 16mm educational films, and in so doing has salvaged a genre that otherwise might have literally found its end in a dumpster. To remind us of the pain and pleasure we all found in the process of being indoctrinated into the educational culture, Skip curates shows with titles like Those Naughty Druggies, or Women—Then and NOW. A/V Geeks shows will make you laugh and make you cry several times a month. Most screenings occur in the Triangle, but they have also been shown outside the area, including at the Whitney Museum in New York.


Every two months, this screening series presents any and all Super 8 and 16mm projects that originated on film and are less than fifteen minutes long. Jen Ashlock, current head of Flicker, says, “I don’t do much. It’s mostly the crowd and the filmmakers that do the storytelling.” Flicker provides a social, informal setting to view films, drink beer, eat cookies, swap ideas, and draw inspiration.

This works. Flicker chapters have sprouted all over the country, often at the instigation of Chapel Hill Flicker attendees who have moved elsewhere. Asheville, Athens, Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Richmond, and New York now all host Flicker screenings.

Glitter Films

Flicker’s equivalent in Raleigh, Glitter Films takes place in a bar and is even more low-key. Twice a month, Russell Walls and Kirk Adam screen films made with little to no budgets. “Someone right now is probably putting together a small-screen classic in their bedroom or basement. Glitter Films plans to keep supporting the art of short filmmaking,” they say. At the end of one screening, Walls offered his Super 8 camera to anyone interested in picking it up.

North Carolina Visions

Local PBS station UNC-TV hosts an independent film series called “North Carolina Visions.” Starting in September, the series showcases work by North Carolina independent filmmakers and runs for six consecutive Saturdays at 11:00 p.m. The station broadcasts throughout the state, but is based in the Research Triangle Park (a triangle inside the Triangle).

The submission deadline is mid-May. This season, seventeen of the fifty-six films submitted were selected. You or your talent must be from or living in North Carolina in order to submit. Documentary, fiction, experimental, and all other genres are welcome.


Full Frame Documentary Festival

Formerly known as the Double-Take Film Festival, Full Frame is one of the country’s premier documentary film festivals. It is also one of five qualifying festivals for the Academy Awards Short Documentary category. Only five years old, this festival nonetheless boasts a board that includes D.A. Pennebaker, Barbara Kopple, Ross McElwee, and Ken Burns.

Over 100 films are screened each April at the Carolina Theater, a newly renovated film and theater complex which functions as a multiscreen art house theater the rest of the year. The high-end space draws big crowds and makes documentarians feel grand.

Hi Mom! Film Festival

At the other end of the festival spectrum is the Hi Mom! Film Festival: short films by people “with deep thoughts and shallow pockets.” Three days of music, movies, flaming trophies, and pancakes in the shape of your initials—all of it in April. Last year special guest Albert Maysles showed some of his films.

The festival offers $2,000 in prize money and charges no entry fees. No wonder organizers say, “Hi Mom! loves you more than any festival EVER could.”

Cucalorus Film Festival

This May festival is actually outside the Triangle, in Wilmington, a few hours east. The noncompetitive event provides a relaxed atmosphere that celebrates the diversity of voices in independent film of all forms. One of my all-time favorite festival venues is the City Stage Theater. It’s on the top floor of a high-rise, and adjoins a bar and a large terrace where you can watch the sun set over the nearby river and chat with other filmmakers as you sip your drink.

About :

Francesca Talenti is an independent filmmaker and a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.