What started as a project for graduate school quickly turned into a passion for Liv Dubendorf and Brian Gersten.
Dubendorf and Gersten are both graduate students at Wake Forest University. For a class assignment, the pair began to research and study the ancient art of hollerin’ and the National Hollerin’ Contest held annually in Spivey’s Corner. Through their journey, the duo have compiled a documentary film, soon to be released, and are in the process of raising funds to complete the project.
“The project started as a grad school project, but quickly morphed into something we wanted to pursue until we felt we’d told the full story,” Dubendorf said in a recent interview. “We’re currently in the phase of fundraising to put the finishing touches on the film and send it to festivals, hopefully sharing a little piece of North Carolina history with others.”
According to Dubendorf, she and her project partner knew very little about the North Carolina culture, one that is very familiar to those in the Sampson County area. At first, the pair became intrigued with the contest, but were soon fascinated by the art of hollerin’ itself.
“There is such an art to what was once a very necessary form of communication,” Dubendorf shared. “And so much information is packed into each distinct call. There are calls for help around the farm, ones that warn of emergency (which sound very much like ambulances), ones that let your neighbor know you’re coming to visit, and some can simply be a call for dinner. One common misconception is that pig calling and hollerin’ are one and the same, and that is far from the truth. We were told time and again that they were different. And we came to very much respect the culture of hollerin’.”
Hollerin’ is a part of Sampson County culture and the annual Hollerin’ Contest (now the annual Hollerin’ Heritage Festival) celebrates those traditions every year. Dubendorf says this aspect of life quickly began to interest her and Gersten.
“We discovered that hollerin’ is a unique community,” Dubdendorf attested. “The participants opened their homes and their lives to us, and dealt with having a camera around frequently. Brian and I really want to help keep that community alive by sharing our film.”
What perspective are the viewers seeing in the documentary.
In the film, Dubendorf and Gersten followed former champions who had won the contest in some capacity in the past. They focused in on three characters. One was Iris Turner, who won the ladies’ championship in 1977. Next was Robbie Goodman, who won the junior division in 1978. Then, they followed Tony Peacock, five-time National Hollerin’ champion, around.
In an effort to teach others about the art of Hollerin’ and the culture behind it, Dubendorf and Gersten are working to complete the 15-minute documentary through a fundraising. The fundraising site is kickstarter.com/projects/hollerin/national-hollerin-contest-documentary and the Facebook site is https://www.facebook.com/hollerinfilm.
Dubendorf and Gersten developed the concept of the documentary after seeing a film featuring the 1978 championship. The pair decided to take a look at those winners 36 years later.
“As we went on, we fell in love with the characters, place, and concept, and we started thinking about doing a modern ‘where are they now’ and how has the culture of hollerin’ changed over the last 36 years,” Dubendorf said.
“More than anything, hollerin’ is a nod to history. Participants are taking the time and learning communication tools from what once was for a lifestyle that now so rarely exists. There is an art to it, yes, but it’s mostly keeping the tradition alive.”
To view a trailer of the film, visit: https://vimeo.com/124470256.