Brian Gersten: An Interview With The Hollerin' Documentarian
Director Brian Gersten In June of 2016, the folks behind Spivey Corner's National Hollerin' Contest decided to put an end to th...
|Director Brian Gersten|
What drew you to the National Hollerin' Contest?
I'm a city guy, I'm from Chicago originally, and so when I came across videos of the hollerin' contest online I was in complete awe. I had never seen anything like it. It was a very foreign, exotic thing for me to see. I was immediately fascinated by this competition, and I wanted to find out as much as I could about the history of it and the people that participated in it. Also, the videos of the contest that I came across were from the '70s, so I was very curious to find out how the contest and contestants had evolved over the decades.
Did you run into any difficulties while filming The Hollerin' Contest At Spivey's Corner?
On the day of the contest we were all anxious and excited and eager to document it. We had all sorts of ideas in mind for how we would cover the event but then... there was an unexpected torrential downpour which threw everything out of whack. It just wouldn't stop raining and we were starting to fear the competition might be cancelled. Luckily they continued on with the contest and we just had to make due with the situation, which wasn't ideal, but it was certainly an interesting curve ball.
At any point during filming were you tempted to switch gears and make it entirely about Iris Turner?
The thought of making a film that just focused on Iris Turner definitely crossed our minds. She's such a wonderful, interesting, funny, and dynamic person on screen so the idea of turning our attention to her was certainly appealing. At the same time, we were more interested in focusing on the hollerin; contest in general and thankfully Iris is a big part of that and a big part of our film.
Your documentary was a selection at numerous film festivals and won several awards. Did one in particular mean more to you?
It's amazing to see that the film has screened all over the country, and it even screened in the UK and Mexico as well. It's still very hard to pick a favorite accolade or festival. I would say it's been especially wonderful to screen the documentary at festivals in the south like RiverRun, Indie Grits, and Sidewalk because we've met so many people that have a personal connection to the contest or can remember seeing hollerin' champions on The Tonight Show back in the day. So that's something that's been very endearing and rewarding.
They announced the cancellation of the event just as your documentary was ending its festival run. What went through your mind, in relation to your documentary and the festival in general, when you heard the news?
To be honest, the announcement that the contest was ending was a surprise to everyone. We all had mixed feelings about it; we felt sad, disappointed, and frustrated that we couldn't do more to have helped it keep going. It was obvious that interest was dwindling and crowds were shrinking, but we didn't think it would necessarily lead to the complete cancellation of the contest. Still, we felt very happy and proud that we were able to document one of the last contests and preserve that history. We hope that people see our film and that they ultimately gain an appreciation and awareness of this unique contest and this unique way of life. So it's important to us that we keep hollerin' alive one way or another.
Will you be filming the 1st Annual World Wide Hollerin' Festival?
My co-director Liv Dubendorf and I plan on being at the festival, and we'll be doing a little filming and sound recording while we're there. But we also want to be able to enjoy the event and not just be working the whole time.
Tell us what's next for you.
I have two projects in the works right now. I'm wrapping up a food documentary about caviar (a far cry from hollerin'). The film examines the history, culture, and significance of caviar and it also focuses on the environmental impact of producing/eating caviar and the need for sustainability. The other film that I'm working on focuses on the last land dispute between the US and Canada, which is an island off the coast of Maine called Machias Seal Island.
More information on The Hollerin' Contest At Spivey's Corner and Brian Gersten can be found at briangersten.org. For details on the 1st Annual World Wide Hollerin' Festival, which will be held in Hope Mills on November 5th, please visit the organization's official website.