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Historical Documentary Building Blocks: People, Place, Stories and Events

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“Story” is tantamount when a filmmaker decides whether to make a film. If the story doesn’t resonate with the film’s creator, then the project will just be a jumble of parts. Story is the linkage that brings the chapters together to make a coherent film that is both informative and entertaining.
This is the documentary filmmaking philosophy of Evan Shaw, a young award-winning producer of documentaries designed for public broadcasting.
His films have ranged from athletic profiles and behind-the-scenes sports series, to films about the impact of creative activities on people in trauma, and most currently, historical documentaries.
He has worked as a “one-man” shop in athletics and also has partnered with Dr. Lynn Harter who specializes in health communication for an award winning series of documentaries concerning the intersections of creativity and trauma.
However, when it comes to doing historical documentaries about a town or a county or a region, Shaw juggles all of the parts. He does the initial research, identifies images that are powerful, identifies people who are knowledgeable about the area, and starts talking. More importantly, he starts listening.
He listens to people’s stories – some true and some folklore and he then develops a chronological thread of events, unique people, the sanctity of place, and the spirit of a town, village or county. He collects still images and video of places and people that are highlighted. He also tries to capture on film intriguing stories unique to the town.
To date, Shaw has focused on small Appalachian towns that are overlooked by almost everyone. Yet, Shaw finds unique, captivating stories and brings them to life along with enlivening community spirit and pride.
He combines breath-taking images with still photographs. He writes a narration that is delivered by actors and voices of the region and he punctuates his films with indigenous music performed by his parents, both professional musicians.
Shaw, a native son of Appalachia himself, tires of the impression given by big-city media of the people and life in this region. Too often he feels that Appalachia people are stereotyped by words and images as poor, dirty, stupid and lazy. Shaw rebukes that characterization.
“This region has a rich heritage that is highlighted by major historical events and innovation and creative people,” Shaw says. “It is my honor to be able to display the richness of our culture and our people to the broader world through my work.”