Stan Woodward on his Southern Foodway Documentation
By Stan Woodward
From the time of Stan's 4-year odyssey in the making of the documentary classic, IT'S GRITS!, in the 1970's, he began realizing how food is a medium - a door through which, when opened, presents an avenue - a "path of least resistance", as he calls it - into the soul and persona of the South. And he takes us through that door and into a storytelling experience that reveals his love for the people of the South who are instinctive about remaining in touch with their agrarian "struggle-against-the-odds" past. This, when combined with Stan's having come from a family of storytellers, allows him to move comfortably, genuinely, with ethnographic sensitivity and with extraordinary trust and acceptance into local and often remote communities to enable the viewer to become one with the way they honor the past in the present.
"The thing I like most about the folk I have documented in my work is the way they maintain great respect for the people who came before them - their elders - by continuing traditions in community with their neighbors, family and friends that stand forth against the attrition of these values and traditions that I believe is destroying community as we have known it in the South. "
"From the bond of food that cuts across all racial, social, and economic ties to the annual gatherings of thousands of blacks and whites who return home from across the nation to the SC Lowcountry to attend centuries-old campmeetings-in-the-woods, the one theme that repeats itself is the importance to a people with agrarian roots of keeping alive,or returning to and staying in touch with ancestral roots. And from these documentaries a picture forms of a place and its people that Southern authors have been inspired by and have drawn upon for their stories and characters for years... ever since there was a place called 'the South.'
"I believe that the times are putting in jeopardy many of the components that keep alive our folk heritage traditions in this new digital instant-everything age. Who will have the time and the ability and will, nowadays, to suspend their pre-conditioned expectation of immediate gratification and find the patience to sit, and listen, and watch, as tradition-bearers work to keep alive and teach us about the heritage of their ancestors in tangible and sharable, conversational and unhurried ways through the medium of fellowship and community. By visiting these people and their folkways in their own space and time, we are reminded of how they help us put into perspective the cost of our being lost in the definition of ourselves as 'consumers' and they help us distance ourselves from a culture that so-defines us, enabling us to get back to our roots and an understanding of where we came from."
Taken altogether, the sweep of Stan's spontaneous camera shot in a "first-person singular" documentary narrative style encompasses a remarkable slice-of-life look at what is so hard to put one's finger on about the South - the almost invisible threads that all these people have running through them in common and down through time that weave together the folklife and agrarian-rooted tapestry of the South.
Most recently, Stan has restored and included in his collection several of his earlier works: The American Super-8 Revolution (a classic documentary that captures the early introduction of filmmaking in the classroom - 1972); The People Who Take Up Serpents (jointly produced by the filmmaker who assisted writer, Gretchen Robinson as she produced the first work in the SC Arts Commission's Independent Filmmakers production grant program - 1974); and The Tower of the Potomac (the documentation of a school residency by German post modernist environmental sculptor, Mo Edoga, as he worked with the public schools in Prince William County, Virginia and constructed a "tower" from driftwood from the Potomac River bound together with shipping cord and made by the eye, strength and hand coordination of the artist - 1994); and the classic interactive satellite video lyceum, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Then and Now", that brought together for the first time the cast, producer, screenwriter, title-designer and the star of the film, Gregory Peck, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the movie which adapted Harper Lee's great novel to the screen.
The sum of the documentaries in the Woodward Studio Limited's collection provide a view of Southern culture and its folklife and foodways through the storytelling aesthetic and folk heritage preservation sensibilities of Stan Woodward. Nowhere else is there such a concentration of documentaries on the communal cooking of stews in huge black iron kettles by stewmasters, hashmasters and burgoo kings, nor the related stories like Nothing to Prove and Hallowed Ground. They form a tapestry of Southern folk heritage foodways, folk heritage music, and related folkways that provide a deep and penetrating look into Southern Americana.
The 5-volume series called SOUTHERN ROUTES is a collection of short films and feature length productions that Stan was able to edit made possible by a Creativity in Folklife grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Folklife and Traditional Arts program. And his concluding work, NOTHING TO PROVE: Mac Arnold's Return to the Blues, is a fitting end to a long career dedicated to capturing portions of Southern culture that otherwise would have remained overlooked by the mainstream media.
"Having experienced a stroke that has resulted in my having to end my field work and shooting of documentaries about the people who really give the South the wonderful part of it's character and difficult to define cultural essence from the ethnographic and anthropological point of view, I look forward now to having the time to delve into this bountiful archive of material and continue editing short works that fill out the spectrum of what I see as honoring the tradition-bearers of skilled folklife practices, continuances and culinary art forms that mainstream media doesn't have the time for and that can't "turn a quick profit" from the production. My hope is that as these records of the folklife of our people recede from us in time, they will grow in value in the way of reminding us of our true heritage - our agrarian roots, and the hard labor and joy of community that those who valued and maintained these roots is captured here."