North Carolina has a long history of filmmaking, dating back to the silent era. As someone who often teaches courses on nonfiction filmmaking, however, I’m struck by how many wonderful documentaries have been produced both in and about North Carolina in recent years. These films often screen at film festivals, but too often fly under the radar for most potential audiences – especially when they don’t receive a theatrical release, which is often the case.
These six memorable documentaries, released within the past two decades, masterfully capture the spirit of the place we live. This list could be 10 times as long and still not do justice to the wonderful documentary films being made about our state, but it’s a good starting point for those who want to see a sampling of the best work being made about North Carolina’s past, present and future.
Bright Leaves (2003), Dir. Ross McElwee
Ross McElwee has made a career out of making engaging first-person documentaries that weave together the filmmaker’s personal story with the history of larger ideas about life in the South. With great humor and intelligence, Bright Leaves connects the legacy of N.C. tobacco and Bull Durham to a 1950 Hollywood melodrama starring Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall, to North Carolina social and political history, to McElwee’s own family and what it means to be a filmmaker turning the lens on a place that you happen to call home.