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Film to highlight the ‘grit and wit’ of Gary Carden

Film to highlight the ‘grit and wit’ of Gary Carden

A film about one of Western North Carolina’s most revered literary figures will make its world premiere in a free event at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Jackson County library in Sylva. 


“I think anybody that visits with Gary Carden finds out really quickly that he’s just engaging and fun to talk to,” said Neal Hutcheson, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. “I wanted to celebrate Gary in the way that we’re doing Saturday. I wanted him to see it. He’s well-known of course, but I wanted to expand the awareness of who he is and what he’s done.”

More than a quarter-century in the making, “Storyteller” is the brainchild of Hutcheson, who is also the author of “ The Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton” and producer of other well-known Appalachian titles like 2002’s “ This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” (also about Sutton) and 2004’s “Mountain Talk.”

Hutcheson first met and began filming Carden around the time he was making “ Mountain Talk .” They’ve been friends ever since.

“When I started the [Carden] film, I had much more modest aims in mind. I didn’t intend for it to go on for a quarter of a century,” Hutcheson said.

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Between raising kids, writing books and producing documentaries — in addition to his duties as a senior research scholar in the English Department at N.C. State University — Hutcheson intended to shoehorn the project into his busy life, and initially had support from the university until the program went kaput. Nevertheless, the project was never far from his mind.

“There’s that maxim, and this goes for almost any discipline. It’s the rule of three. It can be inexpensive, it can be fast or it can be good quality, but you can only pick two of those,” Hutcheson laughed. “So, I hope that is good quality.”

A touching tribute to the lore, folklore, superstitions and tall tales of the region, and their most enthusiastic guardian, “Storyteller” focuses on the life of Gary Carden, now 88.

Carden has been a fixture in Appalachia’s arts scene for more than 50 years, winning numerous awards for his books and plays, including the Book of the Year Award from the Appalachian Writers Association in 2001, the Brown Hudson Award for Folklore in 2006 and the North Carolina Arts Council Award for Literature in 2012.

He’ll be joined at the premiere by Hutcheson and William Ritter, who wrote and performed music for the film, and author David Joy, whose works are rooted in the very same Appalachian culture that Hutcheson has spent decades chronicling.

“The topic of Appalachia, as a culture, is about the people that I’ve met, and the earnest realism and the grit and the wit in the culture itself, the flavor of the language and everything,” Hutcheson said. “It’s kind of addictive and you want to be around that, especially knowing that it’s disappearing.”

The event, sponsored by The Smoky Mountain News, is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. The film is 90 minutes, with closed captioning. Carden’s public appearances have become increasingly rare, and usually reach capacity quickly. The Jackson County Library is located at 310 Keener St., in Sylva.

A forthcoming collection of Carden’s short stories is expected to be published by The University of North Carolina Press sometime next year.

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