An independent documentary crew has completed work on a film centered on Lumpkin, Ga., exploring the history and culture of the town. The film crew, led by Nicholas Manting-Brewer, filmed on location over the course of 2017 and 2018. Now the movie, titled Lumpkin, GA, is making its way through film festivals throughout the United States and is set to air on the Public Broadcasting Service later this month.
The documentary was filmed and produced by four USC graduates including Manting-Brewer directing. Manting Brewer brought his knowledge of Georgia to the filming process, as he had lived in Augusta, Ga. from ages “10 to almost 18.”
Manting-Brewer used his experience in the South and his filmmaking skills to bring the different aspects of Lumpkin, Ga. and its surroundings to life through the documentary.
Themes of the film
Part of what interested Manting-Brewer in directing the film was the juxtaposition of Lumpkin as a small Georgia town with the Stewart Detention Center. Focusing on the federal facility, he saw that “there’s something inherently isolating” about the immigration system, a similarity he saw in the town as well.
“In Lumpkin, a rural city experiencing a high poverty rate, people do not often come to town to speak to the people who live there. That was reflected in what we heard from the people who lived there, and I think contributed to their willingness to participate in our filming,” said Manting-Brewer, “On the other side, there was also this inherent isolation in the experience of the people stuck in this part of the immigration system. As we continued to film and meet people living in Lumpkin and people impacted by Stewart Detention Center, it was hard not to notice these parallel stories of the isolation in rural poverty and the isolation in immigration detention. Clearly, they are not the same experience, but both are huge, overlooked parts of our American story.”
Throughout the filming and editing process, the crew had similar thoughts. Editor Michael Gil saw parallels between town and Detention Center while putting the different shots together.
“As the footage started coming back, I started seeing the story as being about how there’re all different sorts of prisons in Lumpkin, the physical variety, yes, but also prisons of poverty, history and geography,” Gil said.
Lumpkin’s past and present
The film’s Director of Photography, Feixue “Fei” Tang, came with Manting-Brewer to make the documentary after he had pitched the idea to her, showing “a map of Lumpkin, Ga. and also the Stewart Detention Center beside it,” said Tang.
What interested Gil in the project was how “the town on the surface, is this sort of…embodiment of America, Main Street USA type of thing,” he said, “The juxtaposition of hte narratives a bout Lupmkin and Stewart Detention Center, that the former externally seems to be the very embodiment of the idealized notion of small town America while the prison is allegedly home to individuals we are told to think of as fundamentally un-American. What interested me in the project was the interplay between those two false narratives and the way the town offered an opportunity to explore the was we think about being Americans.”
“In 1830, this area of Georgia was one of the first places where the Federal Government enforced Native American removal,” said Manting Brewer, “It was one of the epicenters of slavery in the south. So, the trauma of the history of Stewart County played an important role in understanding the current landscape, and we became interested in embedding and drawing out these parallels in the film. Clearly, there were some traumatic historical events that mirrored the conditions of privatized immigration detention we saw today.”
The film crew also focused on the geography of the location, which Manting-Brewer and Tang believe is important in the film. For Tang, the most important thing was to make a visual portrait of the town and its co-existence with Stewart Detention Center.
From the map of Lumpkin and Stewart you can see, “the interesting relationship of the town and Stewart detention center, they’re geographically right by each other, but at the same time they’re also in many ways unrelated. It has a relationship–yet it doesn’t have a relationship–with Stewart Detention Center, the facility that sits right beside it and has a population of around 2000 prisoners and at the same time, the town is probably of a few hundreds of residence…So that whole picture of the co-existence and comparison was really fascinating and what got me into this project,” said Tang.
From filmmakers, we got a good response, I think, because a lot of these filmmakers were from the South. So they’re very sensitive to how the South has been depicted in films before,” said Grandcolas.
One thing the film was shot to do was to show people the difference in culture between the South and other areas like New York or Los Angeles. For Tang, a Chinese foreign national, it was her first time visiting the East Coast and her first time in the South.
“One thing that brought me to this project, and made me really curious is that I have never been to this part of the country. I’ve heard things about it, I’ve heard history about it, but I’ve never been, and I want to be there myself to see it and experience it,” said Tang, “I tried to make myself to be very open to what it offers, and not having any preconceptions.”
Sharing the film’s message
As producer, Grandcolas, took more of a planning and detail role in the filming process and is now focused on taking the film to a variety of festivals for review and distribution.
“We were at the Sarasota Film Festival,” for two screenings, “then we have another film festival coming up in May. That one is the Northwest Film Festival in Alberta, Canada,” said Grandcolas. The documentary also showed at IndieGrits Film Festival in Columbia, SC.
The film will be airing on PBS May 6-12, with airing dates on May 8 in Louisiana and May 9 for North and South Carolina and Arkansas, and playing in Alabama on May 12 at 6:30 p.m. on channel 406.
Now, the film has a chance to reach a much wider audience through its broadcast on PBS’s Reel South, a show hosted by Valerie June.