The much-anticipated premiere of the documentary film “Voices of the Lumbee” was staged in a carnival-like atmosphere on the opening night of the second annual Lumbee River Independent Film Festival. Attendance was estimated at more than 700.
Popcorn and a movie – Some of the student crew from Dr. Dandan Liu’s Public Relations Campaign course, who staged the Lumbee River Independent Film Festival, are from left: Katy Million, Jordan Campbell, Cameron Reynolds and Keith Witherspoon.
The Givens Performing Arts Center sported live music from local indie band Dark Water Rising, a photo booth, balloons, popcorn, raffles, and memorabilia for sale. The film festival is student sponsored and lasted long into the night during its two-day run.
“Voices of the Lumbee” is an hour-long oral history of Robeson County’s Lumbee Indians’ experiences in the post-World War II economy as it transitioned from farm to factory and then to the massive layoffs of the late 1990s. It is also a story of a community that retains its strength and resilience.
The project was nearly three years in the making and approximately 100 students worked on recording interviews, conducting research, and completing various aspects of production and editing with producers Dr. Michele Fazio of the Department of English, Theatre, and Foreign Languages and Dr. Jason Hutchens of the Department of Mass Communication.
In his introduction, Chancellor Kyle R. Carter sensed the electricity in the crowd. “We’re in for a real treat tonight,” he said. “There is a great deal of energy and creativity in the air. This is an example of hands-on learning that UNCP is known for.”
“A lot of people still don’t know the story of the Lumbee people,” Dr. Carter said. “In ‘Voices of the Lumbee’ our faculty and students engaged with this community to tell their story. Many of you will see friends and family.”
Dr. Fazio said the story of the Lumbee literally reached out to her as she drove past the huge, empty Converse factory near Pembroke. “This story of job creation and loss is one that resonates throughout American history,” she said. “What I saw here in Robeson County were hard-working people with a rich and unique cultural heritage.”
The project, which was fueled by several service-learning courses across campus, also received financial support from the university’s Office of Academic Affairs. Besides working with the Lumbee Tribe and its elders, filmmakers traveled to interview Lumbees in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
“It’s produced an important record about local history and lived experience,” Dr. Fazio said. “It’s been one of the most meaningful experiences of my professional career.”
Dr. Hutchens said filmmaking of this type “demonstrates to students what it takes to be successful in this field. It shows them that with hard work, dedication, and vision, an endeavor of this scope can be seen through to completion.” He said the next step is to enter the film in festivals and seek wider distribution.
Dr. Michele Fazio (left) and Dr. Jason Hutchens (right) at ‘Voices of the Lumbee’ film festival.
As the credits rolled, it revealed exactly how many students had a hand in the project. It was a “showcase for service-learning at UNCP,” said Christie Poteet, who directs the program that connects classroom curriculum to the community.
“To see different academic disciplines work together over such a long period of time and produce something really wonderful like this is really gratifying,” Poteet said. “There were 55 service-learning courses offered this academic year.”
Dr. Fazio said students working closely with Lumbee elders produced learning that they cannot get out of a textbook or in a classroom. Bonds were forged between students and elders and stereotypes shattered, she said.
The Lumbee River Independent Film Festival is a service-learning project of Dr. Dandan Liu’s senior public relations capstone course. The students raised funds, marketed, and worked the two-night event. Student organizers Elizabeth Bundy and Daniel Holmes were pleased with their work.
“This event is very exciting, and the film festival is gaining momentum,” Bundy said. “Not counting proceeds from the raffle, we’ve raised $2,000.”
“We’ve worked on this for more than three months,” Holmes said. “I think we’ve done everything possible to market it.”
Even the emcees for the premiere, Alexis Locklear and Comfort Johnson, worked on the “Voices” project. “Alexis and I worked on this, so we’re really excited to see it,” Johnson said. “Thanks to all the students who made this night possible.”
Locklear, who is listed as an assistant online producer, is also the reigning Miss Lumbee. She served as a bridge between the Lumbee community and the filmmakers. In an interview with UNC public radio about “Voices of the Lumbee,” she said it was an important project.
“This tells the history of my people,” Locklear told Frank Stasio, host of public radio’s The State of Things. “I knew a little about Lumbee history, but this was a great way to learn more.”
Interviews with Lumbee elders were candid and remarkably honest. Their remarks came from the heart.
Annie Lowry described the time before manufacturing came to Robeson: “We didn’t have jobs; we worked on the farm. The factories built homes for people.”
The factories “had a great impact on our lives,” said Yvonnie Sampson. “A lot of them said they didn’t know what they were going to do because all of the jobs were leaving. I just felt really sorry for them.”
Thomas Locklear was laid off from his 30-year job at Alamac Knits in Lumberton. “I thought it would always be there,” he said.
William Lowery also was laid off but found salvation in the smaller Alamac that is privately owned by former employees. “I missed the work I enjoyed so much,” he said. “I was out six weeks before I got called back.”
From Bowen’s Bakery in Baltimore, the conversation had the flavor of home cooking. They talked about banana pudding, sweet potato pie, Lumbee Homecoming and summers spent with family in Robeson County.
Ashley Minner talked about the migration north for jobs after the war and the things they carried with them. “The first thing they did when they got to Baltimore was start a church.” The church, South Broadway Baptist Church, usually called a preacher from North Carolina, she said.
Later, the narrative transitions to people and organizations who are working to solve community problems and uplift the community. Lumbee Homecoming, powwows and other strong cultural institutions are discussed, including UNC Pembroke.
Alaina Hunt choked back tears at her graduation ceremony, saying: “This school has been a stepping stone for my family.” Chancellor Carter noted the university’s beginning as a school founded by Lumbees to educate Indian school teachers. The school served as a repository and actively promotes the culture of Lumbee Indians, he said.
Ruth Dial Woods, who manages Sacred Pathways, talked about the evolution of the non-profit and its mission. “Originally, we were going to work with addiction,” she said. “We ended up taking on the issue of hunger. We are very busy here.”
Charly Lowry, lead singer of Dark Water Rising, talked about her project, Peace in the Park, which seeks to stop the violence that plagues the Lumbee community. “We’re taking a stand against violence and promoting harmony,” she said. “Our people deserve it. You just have to have the vision for it.”
In the end, the film goes to the heart of Robeson County and finds it still beating. It is a story of a distinct community that continues to be a powerful and prideful force in the lives of Lumbees.
The Lumbee Independent Film Festival showed 11 films on both nights, some from UNCP students like Elke Groothuis and 2012 graduate Grant Merritt, who contributed a piece for the first festival.
For more information about the Lumbee River Independent Film Festival, please go to their Facebook page. For more information about “Voices of the Lumbee,” please go to their website at voicesofthelumbee.com.