Critically acclaimed film organization selects Gullah Documentary for sponsorship

In August of 2017, Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands made another giant leap forward. The film was one of the select few to be accepted by The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) for fiscal sponsorship. We are incredibly excited about this opportunity and wanted to share with our followers what this means for our film.

SDF is a nonprofit arts organization that cultivates documentary projects made in or about the American South. They serve as a leading advocate for powerful southern storytelling, providing filmmakers and artists with professional support, filmmaking grants, and fiscal sponsorship.

As a fiscally sponsored project of SDF, Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands is entitled to receive tax-exempt contributions from individuals and granting sources which require non-profit status. We recently sat down with SDF’s Executive Director Naomi Walker to talk about our film and the organization’s awesome work.

1. Could you tell us about the history of The Southern Documentary Fund and its founding? 

SDF was founded in 2002 by two independent filmmakers, Steve Channing and Cynthia Hill. They were producing and directing feature-length documentaries, and found themselves reaching out to organizations in New York or on the West Coast to sponsor their films. Eventually Cynthia and Steve felt compelled to create a home for southern storytellers closer to home. Based in Durham, North Carolina, SDF became the first and only arts nonprofit dedicated to supporting documentary artists in the American South, filling a substantial gap in services locally and within the region.

Over the past decade, SDF has become a trusted partner for veteran, emerging, and first-time documentary producers across our region, helping them direct their lenses and microphones at powerful southern stories and critical issues. The work of SDF artists covers a diverse spectrum of topics — civil rights, the environment, history, and the arts — and their films are being used as effective tools for social change, education, and community development. SDF is passionate about providing our artists with opportunities for professional growth, offering support and programming that connects them to the resources necessary to hone their skills, complete their projects, and exhibit them widely.

As a leading advocate for documentary culture in the Southeast, SDF forges relationships between our regional makers and industry professionals around the country. Since our founding, SDF has sponsored over 150 independent documentaries. Currently we have approximately 77 active documentaries on the roster, a record number for our small organization.

2. What is your role at The Southern Documentary Fund?

As Executive Director of SDF, I live for building an ecosystem of documentary storytelling in the South. We want makers to be able to live and thrive in our region, telling authentic stories from the inside. So every day, I’m talking to makers, documentary industry colleagues, funders, thought leaders and more to grow our field. We have programs that help makers directly: Fiscal Sponsorship, Fresh Docs, Grants, Mentorship and our annual Artists Convening.  All that we do is made possible through partnerships and collaboration with other organizations, foundations, and the guidance of makers.

3. What does the film Gullah Gone: Preserving The Land, Water And Culture Of The Sea Islands mean to you?

The film itself raises important issues, and could spur crucial dialogue on many threads in the story, including preservation vs. gentrification, Black land loss, the struggle of farmers, the role of tourism, and looking at who benefits from development.

4. The Southern Documentary Fund has been a great advocate of Southern films and filmmakers since 2002, why do you think Gullah Gone is joining the selection of film projects this year? 

Gullah Gone is the very kind of inside storytelling SDF is excited to support.  The film team’s connection to the story, to the region and to the history impressed us.

5. Why do you think Southern African-American stories like Gullah Gone are so important?

It depends on who is doing the storytelling, doesn’t it? This documentary and the team behind it bring important nuance and complexity to Southern storytelling. If Gullah Gone was strictly told from the traditional White colonialist and anthropological lens, audiences could perceive the story as a black and white, change vs. tradition tale. Instead this team is bringing insiders to join them, so we can witness the living, breathing Gullah culture that is very much alive, and empowered to control their own narrative.

Meet The Gullah Project’s Volunteers

Five student volunteers from the University of South Carolina help make up Team Gullah this semester. While Gullah Gone: Preserving the Land, Water and Culture of the Sea Islands is completing production, volunteers assist with the various film operations and gain hands on experience in their aspiring career fields. Through tagging and logging film footage, helping manage social media, working with publicity outreach, and blogging, volunteers are gaining new skills in visual communications, public relations, and media arts. Volunteers work closely with the film’s producer, Sherard Duvall, and the director, Denise McGill.

What drew you to The Gullah Project?

Demetri w Dog

Demetri: I always wanted to get into documentaries and see how the creation process works. What kept me, however, was the subject matter. I had no idea that the Gullah culture existed (let alone how important it was). I came to the revelation that it would be really cool to share that discovery with other people and wanted to help. I got on because a colleague of mine, Alex Cone, was working on it and she helped me get involved.


Sarah: I first became interested in The Gullah Project because I wanted to gain experience in documentary work. I also grew up vacationing on the South Carolina coast, so I had a lot of interest in learning more about the Gullah community. I was put into contact with The Gullah Project through someone I know at SCETV, who told me they were looking for students to assist them with the documentary.

Teleshia: I was drawn to The Gullah Project after my roommate sent me an email
about them needing summer volunteers. I thought it would be a cool to spend my
summer while learning something new.


Frazier: I was interested in learning more about Gullah culture and the process of making a documentary. When I first saw McGill’s presentation of The Gullah Project at a photography and film conference, I was immediately drawn to the project. When I learned there were opportunities to work behind the scenes I wanted to help in any way possible.




Valencia: I got involved with TGP last summer. I was looking for local internships and I
came across it online. I got in contact with Professor McGill and before you know it, I was a volunteer. I think what really drew me in was how welcoming everyone was and
how passionate Professor McGill and Sherard were about sharing this story in hopes of
bringing awareness to a culture that many don’t know much about.

What are your responsibilities as a volunteer?

Sarah Stone

Sarah: I assist with logging, but I also create small video         vignettes for social media.




Demetri: I am responsible for logging and tagging the footage. This equates to labeling
the footage so that if an editor needs something specific, that person can find what
he/she is looking for.

Teleshia: My responsibilities as a volunteer are to help out with the social media platforms. I work with Sherard to find the right images to post on the project’s social media. I am also working on finding the right information in order to license music for our trailers and documentary film. And lastly, I continue to log transcripts of the different video clips.

Frazier: I am the blog assistant for The Gullah Project. I work with Sherard to create
blog content to connect our audience to the work we’re doing for the film. I help craft
interview questions and ideas for features. I have also worked on tagging and logging
footage for the film.



Valencia: As a volunteer, I often transcribe footage, update contact information, and assist Prof. McGill or Sherard with various other tasks.




What have you learned since joining The Gullah Project?

Demetri: I’m learning a ton! Everything from stories of the past to how to best fish for
crab on the coast. I’m learning about the Gullah people and their fascinating history. I
am also learning the technical side of recording and producing footage.

Sarah: The most lasting lesson I have learned so far is all of the planning that is
required to make a quality documentary. From promotions to the logging, funding and
research. I have always wanted to produce my own documentary some day, and now I
have such a new level of respect for all of the work that goes into doing that.

TeleshiaTeleshia: So far, I learned how important it is to preserve a culture. I knew of the Gullah community, but working on this project I learned their different cultural traditions and how they’re trying to work together to protect their land and culture.




Frazier: I’ve learned the importance of having a support system during a creative
process. After seeing all of the technical work that goes into making a film and planning for its success I believe having a solid team is great. I applaud McGill and her team for all the work they do. I’ve learned a lot about Gullah culture too and the importance of historic preservation. This film has been such an educational experience and has further helped me in my own creative pursuits.

Valencia: Since joining TGP, I’ve learned that there is a lot of preparation you have to
do before and during the documentary process. It’s not as easy as shooting and
sending, editing, and sending it to someone. There are contracts, model releases, and
so much more.

Our Spring 2018 Volunteers

Demetri Kotsinis is a Visual Communications senior and tags and logs footage for The Gullah Project. He joined in spring 2018.

Sarah Stone is a Broadcast Journalism senior and assists with logging for The Gullah Project as well as creating video vignettes on social media. She joined in spring 2018.

Teleshia Toney is a Media Arts senior and joined The Gullah Project in the summer of 2017. Teleshia is an aspiring screenwriter and assists with social media.

Frazier Bostic is a Public Relations junior. She contributes with logging and assisting as the blog assistant for Team Gullah. She joined The Gullah Project in fall 2017 and aspires to be a filmmaker and public relations practitioner.

Valencia Abraham likes to watch documentaries on Sundays, which contributed to her interest in The Gullah Project. Valencia is a Visual Communications senior and joined The Gullah Project in summer 2017.