H. Lee Waters (1902 - 1997) operated a photography studio on Main Street in Lexington, North Carolina for more than 60 years. For most of that time, his work covered the standard range of commercial still photography - weddings, portraits, school groups. But during the lean years of the late Depression Waters hit the road with a 16mm camera and projector and created "Movies of Local People."
These short silent films were shown in movie theaters as a special attraction, and were a commercial and artistic success. In the mill towns and small cities of the Textile Belt, thousands of people saw themselves and their communities on the big screen. Waters made "Movies of Local People" from the summer of 1936 to the summer of 1942, shooting more than 250 shows in 118 different towns. Most were in North Carolina, with some in South Carolina, a few in Virginia, and one in Tennessee. Waters developed a fluid and expressive style, and the films feature an often vivacious depiction of community life along with beautiful portraits and some "small town symphony" special effects.
The Cameraman Has Visited Our Town" includes many examples of Waters's footage, plus interviews with him in his studio. "Movies of Local People" are only one example of the vast rich heritage of film culture that exists outside mainstream commercial cinema, documents that are well worth preserving for future generations.
H. Lee Waters films have been collected and preserved at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University, at the State Archives in Raleigh, NC, and at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Duke actively seeks and collects Waters films and has the largest collection. His 1941 film of Kannapolis, NC was placed on the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005.