Summer volunteers bond while learning about Gullah culture

When you make a difference in the life of one, it creates a ripple effect. As we continue to put our creative minds to work and discuss the need for land preservation on St. Helena Island, seven students from USC and Columbia College collaborate with us each week and assist with creating a change.


The Gullah Project’s summer volunteers are, from left, Rose Steptoe, Jai-Anna Carter, Xavier Parker, Demetri Kotsinis; seated, Melvonia Taylor, Brianna Morales; and not pictured, Steven Tapia-Macias. photo by Denise McGill

These students make up The Gullah Project’s summer volunteer team. They do a wide range of tasks that are essential behind the scenes of the film. As they transcribe footage, create posts for social media, assist our director, write blog posts, and do production research, our volunteers gain valuable, first-hand experience to help them in their careers and learn more about the importance of the project.

They also acquire knowledge from the film’s director Denise McGill and producer Sherard Duvall, when they attend Film School on Tuesdays. Here they learn more about visual communication, public relations, media arts, and Gullah/Geechee culture. We sat down with the interns and asked them a few questions about the internship.

Why were you interested in becoming a volunteer for The Gullah Project?

  • Jai: I am interested in the art of film and how it impacts the viewer.
  • Brianna: I love documentaries and appreciate the work put into creating them. I was also interested in learning more about Gullah culture.
  • Steven: I am interested in The Gullah Project because I believe documentaries have the power to educate the public and be a catalyst for meaningful change and participation. I am looking forward to learning technical aspects of production as well as post-production. Getting to learn more about the Gullah people is also a major reason for joining the project.
  • Demetri: I wanted to learn more about the Gullah culture as well as the process of making a documentary.

As a volunteer, what are your responsibilities?

  • Brianna: I am responsible for viewing and logging footage.
  • Jai: I am responsible for assisting with social media platforms, gathering visuals, and writing blog posts. I also monitor Gullah/Geechee upcoming events and happenings.
  • Steven: My responsibilities are to log and tag footage in order to make the editing process easier.
  • Xavier: My responsibilities are to be an assistant to the director and producer and log clips.
  • Rose: My responsibilities are to help with production research and logging footage.
  • Mel: I’m responsible for logging footage, writing blog posts, creating character keys, and assisting Jai with social media.
  • Demetri: My responsibilities are logging, tagging, and editing footage.

What have you valued most from this experience so far?

  • Rose: So far, being on a team with multiple backgrounds, goals, and responsibilities has been valuable and insightful to me. I usually don’t have the chance to interact with other majors in a setting like this during the semester. It’s helped me see how important interdisciplinary work and working with a team can be.
  • Xavier: I’ve valued learning from others and being around like-minded individuals who want to work in or are working in media-related fields. Creative people feed off of one another, and that’s how we grow.
  • Mel: I have valued the opportunity to learn from a photojournalist, since I would like to be one in the near future. Also, I’ve enjoyed attending Film School each Tuesday and hearing what each of the interns and volunteers have learned from the footage they’ve logged or transcribed. Knowing the film may impact many lives, including mine, is empowering because, as a person who’s interested in social justice journalism, I feel the message behind the film, preserving land in St. Helena Island, is a relevant topic and the film could create conversations that can lead to change.

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.

Los Angeles funding and distribution company partners with Gullah film

The Gullah Project continues to expand its team as we advance production on our one-hour documentary film Gullah Gone: Preserving the Land, Water and Culture of the Sea Islands. In summer of 2017 we welcomed Los Angeles based funding and distribution company Brandon/Kane productions to our family.

Currently living in Vietnam, husband and wife team Victor and Edwina brought their years of marketing, business, fundraising  and distribution experience together to form this unique company. Their team consists of a group of strategy, social media, marketing and communications professionals that meet the distinctive needs of documentary filmmakers.

We sat down with Victor and Edwina to ask them about their work, partnering with the Gullah Project and their unique ties to Gullah culture.

1. How did you first become aware of The Gullah Project? When did you become

VIC: We were at the American Documentary Film Festival in April 2017 and Edwina was
serving on the pitch panel. Denise and Sherard were at that festival, primarily to pitch
Gullah Gone. Edwina was so impressed with the idea of the project, she made sure to
introduce me to Denise and Sherard before they left Palm Springs. After staying in touch
throughout that spring and early summer, Brandon/Kane Productions became formally
involved with the project during the Summer of 2017.

2. What drew you to the project? What does it mean to you?

VIC: There were several things that attracted us to the project. St. Helena Island and the
Gullah culture is near and dear to Edwina’s heart. Her maternal family is rooted in
Beaufort and stems from the Gullah people. There was a desire to become involved in a
project that brought her closer to her roots and gave her an opportunity to learn more.

EDWINA: For Vic, getting to know more about this part of my culture was exciting.
He had never had an opportunity to explore this part of the country. As someone who
loves to travel and experience new cultures, The Gullah Project put the low country at
the top of his list for places to visit. He can’t wait to get there!

Sherard Edwina OnSet

Producer Sherard Duvall & Edwina on set on St. Helena Island.

3. Why do you think Gullah Gone should be made?

BRANDON/KANE: The Gullah represent such a critical part of American history. The
majority of Americans don’t know this culture exists and that’s sad. Even fewer know
this community is on the verge of extinction. It’s a travesty to think the Gullah people
and their land may simply disappear. We believe Gullah Gone can make a difference by
educating mainstream populations about the Gullah culture, the need for preserving the land, and sustainable agriculture. Resolving these issues will help the Gullah community

4. How did you come to start BKP?

BRANDON/KANE: Brandon/Kane Productions was started because we love documentary
film and we saw an opportunity to contribute our skills in a way that was really needed.
Documentarians are constantly faced with finding funds to work on the next phase of
their project while simultaneously holding down another job to help pay the bills. When
the projects are finished, the next hurdle is distribution . . . where to turn, when and
how. This doesn’t seem just to us. The process should be easier and sustainable for
filmmakers. We believe Brandon/Kane Productions is a solution for documentary
filmmakers. We help find funding and distribution for films. What’s the end result?
Filmmakers can stay focused on the creative elements of their projects and be more
efficient in the process.

Amy Sherard Denise Edwina Alex

Executive Producer Amy Shumaker, Sherard, Denise, Edwina and Alex Cone.

5. Tell me about your day to day with BKP. How will those experiences influence your work with TGP?

BRANDON/KANE: Our day to day experiences at Brandon/Kane Productions are as
varied as the projects we manage. We could be writing grants, networking with
prospective individual donors, researching funding and distribution sources, building
relationships with business partners, or a myriad of other things. Most important, we
encounter such a diverse array of people every day (whether it be in person, via skype,
or through email communication), our daily activities reflect one of our guiding
principles . . . to support stories that make this world a better place. To be more specific,
we both embrace diversity in our lives and enjoy interacting with as many cultures as
possible. As such, we will consistently bring partners to the table who embrace similar
values. We believe that perspective is essential for a project like Gullah Gone.

6. Do you have a favorite experience working with the project so far?

VIC: Edwina’s favorite experience was absolutely her trip to St. Helena Island. To be
even more specific, this presented the opportunity to meet Ed “Lee Man” Atkins. Denise
and Edwina stopped by his home for a minute to drop off a care package (Hurricane
Irma had just hit the Carolinas the previous week). Two hours later, we left having
feasted on fresh crab and beer, cooked at a moment’s notice by Lee Man’s wife. It epitomized the Gullah spirit and Edwina knew she was working on this project for all the
right reasons.

EDWINA: Vic hasn’t had the opportunity to interact directly with the cast nor most of
the crew. He holds down the fort at the home office most of the time. Nonetheless, he
loves his experiences. His favorite to date is reading the treatment of the film and
watching the short 7-minute version which introduces such interesting characters and
life stories that inspire him to meet them and hear their stories firsthand.

Edwina at The Atkins House

Edwina at crab dinner with the Atkins’ and the Gullah project team on St. Helena Island


For more information about Brandon/Kane Productions, visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Continue reading

Going Home: My first Heritage Days experience

How did you first become aware of Heritage Days? Why did you attend this year?

During my time with The Gullah Project I’ve logged footage of past Heritage festivals, and researched the Penn Center’s history. I came to understand that the annual event allows Gullah artists, farmers, and fishermen to celebrate their heritage with one another and share it with those eager to understand it. I attended this year because we were invited to screen The Gullah Project and host a Q&A about the film. It was an absolute pleasure to see our cast and crew together again.

This was your first time attending Heritage Days, what was the one thing that stuck with you the most from your visit?

At Heritage, everyone is your family. People were so kind that I felt right at home, and, like I belonged. Also, the food was incredible! The oysters, crabs, and sweet potatoes were so good, I couldn’t get enough of them!

Why do you think Heritage Days is important?

The Heritage Day Celebration is critical to the survival of Gullah culture. It unites younger and older generations and encourages them to preserve the past while embracing the future. This beautiful concept is why Heritage is successful and why I’m sure it will continue.

Heritage Days 2012

Aunt Pearlie Sue entertains hundreds on the main stage at Heritage.


How did you come to get involved with the Gullah Project?

TGP Director, Denise McGill, is also an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at UofSC. I registered for her photography class my senior year and one day she asked if anyone was interested in volunteering with her film. Since my great grandmother is Gullah and I was looking for an extracurricular to enhance my portfolio, I decided to join the TGP team last September.

Tell me about your day to day with The Gullah Project. How will your experience at Heritage influence your work with TGP?

When I start my day with TGP, I like to grab my work journal and review our goals. Keeping our vision in mind allows me to understand my place on the team and make sure I’m helping my director and producer move forward. As production manager, my job is pretty sporadic. Some days I’m a videographer, other days I’m our social media manager, and every once and awhile I get to just sit down with our cast and talk. Those are my favorite days and why I enjoyed Heritage. Touching base and getting to know our cast is what will make Gullah Gone a powerful and effective film because if we care about our cast then our audience will too.






Do you have a favorite experience from Heritage Days?

My favorite experience has to be watching Ed “Lee Man” Atkins teach children about his fishing boat and the net that Crip Legree handmade for him. Lee Man is such a talented and kind man and having the opportunity to see him share his livelihood with a younger generation was truly heartwarming.


Ed “Lee Man” Atkins teaches kids about his special fishing net handmade by Crip Legree.

If you had to invite someone who has never been to St. Helena Island and Heritage Days, what is the one thing you would say to convince them to go?

I would say, “Come home with me.” If you need a hug, a warm meal, and the unmistakable feeling of peace then St. Helena is the place for you.

Gullah Project screens at Heritage Day Celebration

Come preview our documentary film in progress: Gullah Gone: Preserving the Land, Water and Culture of the Sea Islands–directed by Denise McGill this Friday at 4pm.


The film is screening at the 35th Annual Heritage Days Celebration at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC. It will be followed by Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of HBCUs–directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson.

Join us for a Q&A with director and cast immediately after, and an oyster roast, fish fry, and live music starting at 7 pm.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. We hope to see you there!


Producer, editor advances production

Q&A with Gullah Gone Producer, Sherard Duvall.


Since joining the Gullah Gone team in fall 2016, Sherard Duvall has become vital to the progress of the film as producer and editor. He supervises the physical aspects of filmmaking including personnel, project workflow, and scheduling. During filming in St. Helena, Duvall makes sure everything runs smoothly on location. As editor, he created the trailer released on July 20, 2017, and he is building the rough cut for the full-length film. He has experience as producer and editor on both a national stage and locally; currently working as owner and executive producer of OTR Films based in Columbia, S.C.

Duvall’s professional experience make him a valuable asset. He has produced projects for VH1, Discovery Channel, MTV, BET, and the American Cancer Society. He is accomplished in the art of visual storytelling with a strong background in media literacy and marketing communication. He holds a degree from the University of South Carolina in Media Arts. As a USC alumni and Columbia native, Duvall is no stranger to the unique culture and resources of South Carolina.

“Sherard’s the “Get It Done Guy,” says McGill. “He knows everyone and he knows where to get any piece of equipment imaginable. We really picked up on our pace when he joined the team. Plus, he sincerely identifies with our cast, so his passion is infectious.”

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Producer Sherard Duvall films a basket of oysters after they’ve been cleaned at the Atkins Bait Shop. Photo by Denise McGill

GG: How did you first become aware of The Gullah Project? When did you become involved?

SD: I became aware of The Gullah Project in October of 2016. I think it was a buddy of mine, Amy Shumaker of SCETV, that first gave me the heads up that she suggested my name for a project and that a Denise McGill would be reaching out to me. In October, Denise and I met and she discussed the project with me in her office. If I remember correctly, I agreed to be a part of the project on our first meeting.

GG: What drew you to the project? What does it mean to you?

SD: Unbeknownst to Denise at the time of our meeting, I had made a conscious decision in the spring of 2016 to make all of the work that I do focus on minorities, particularly those of the African Diaspora, that experimented with new ways of seeing the human experience. At about the same time I began a personal journey to find my family’s roots and my own genetic connections to West Africa. That was my mindset when I walked into the meeting with Denise in October. That summer of 2016, I began getting all of these projects out of the clear blue sky that fit exactly what I wanted to do, The Gullah Project was one of them. I felt that it was meant to be, honestly.

This project defines freedom for me, that’s what it means to me. As a native South Carolinian and African-American, I understood the importance of that word, because it’s a word, that I feel, descendants of African slaves like me will never know the true meaning of. The descendants don’t really have a home. True freedom, is not just the opportunity to roam, but its the license to live life within your truth. Part of your truth is knowing who and what you are. That’s a void American slave descendants can never fill. That’s what I feel like these residents of St. Helena are fighting for…freedom. The freedom to have a place that is all yours, that is actually connected, through language AND culture, to the history of who and what you are.

GG: Why do you think Gullah Gone should be made?

SD: I think Gullah Gone should be made because of how important the story of freedom is to America. It continues in that same vein of survival stories of American Freedom. The Gullah Story is vitally important to the fabric of America because of how it defines who the African-American person IS. St. Helena island is living history, an actual place where thousand year old West African traditions and language are being passed down to African slave descendants, a world away from Africa, in 2017. It’s unbelievable.


Sherard Duvall on set with OTR Films. 

GG: How did you come to start OTR?

SD: OTR was a dream back in 2012 when I was senior producer at Genesis Studios. I have to credit FatRat Da Czar, OTR’s co-founder, for encouraging me to open a company where I could produce projects where I controlled the creativity. Back then it was just film, but today I make movies, teach media literacy, and help companies with their branding strategies.

GG: Tell me about your day to day with OTR. How will those experiences influence your work with Gullah Gone?

SD: That’s tough to define. As an entrepreneur running a company that really operates in three different worlds, my day to day life varies. One day I could be designing a film education program for a school and the next I could be on set with The Gullah Project or in a meeting to create a messaging campaign or brand for a client. At the end of the day, all we do is help others communicate messages effectively – that is the mindset and the influence that I bring to TGP.

GG: Do you have a favorite experience working with the project so far?

SD: I have so many!! But if I had to pick one, it has to be the first time I met Sara’ Reynolds Green at her home. As the sun was going down, she was showing us around her farm and her home in these leopard print galoshes, blue jeans and a long sleeved tee. The sun was just setting and I remember she told us about the land and how her mother used to work the land. Denise and I walked through her farm and marsh…and then, Sara stood erect, and just looked out over the land…saying a little prayer to God under her breath. In that moment, I got it. I understood what she was fighting to hold on to. I began to understand the importance of the land I was walking on, and the importance of this story to people like me. That idea of having a home and a land that is yours — passed down by your own family who were slaves, who passed down their African traditions to you — and to stand there in the presence of that. It was very moving. That is by far my favorite experience. I remember I went back to my room that night and wrote about that one.


Summer student volunteers advance production

By Kate Chatman

Team Gullah is expanding significantly this summer with our largest group of students in history. Ten students from diverse backgrounds get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Gullah Gone: Preserving the Land, Water and Culture of the Sea Islands. Some students are volunteering to enhance their interest in media careers, while others want a chance to learn about Gullah culture. Ranging from sophomores to graduate students, the group has been trained to log and transcribe video footage at the University of South Carolina. They help sort through the backlog of imagery, sifting through interviews and organizing B-roll while highlighting the most pertinent quotes.

“Students are making a real contribution,” says Denise McGill, director of the film. “Plus, they add a lot of energy over the summer. It’s never dull around here.” The volunteer and work study program is speeding the process up tremendously, allowing the rest of the team to focus on story planning and editing. In addition to logging footage with Adobe Premier software, students share extra duties based on their experience and fields of study.

The volunteers include Alex Wyatt, a second-year student studying visual communications and marketing; Hannah Clingman is a third-year anthropology major; Valencia Abraham is a fourth-year student studying visual communications; Teleshia Toney is a fourth-year student majoring in media arts.

Anthropology major Kate Chatman works as production secretary, keeping the office organized this summer. John “Spud” McCullough, a doctoral student studying sociolinguistics, researches Gullah images in online library archives. Tiffany Jones, a doctoral student in anthropology, is a researcher. She also logs interviews with the most difficult Gullah dialects.

In addition, three student volunteers aren’t even from the University of South Carolina. Ashli White, a second-year student at Queens University of Charlotte studying business administration, is volunteering while at home in Columbia for the summer. Phoebe Johnson is a third-year mass communications major at Benedict College.

Maura Estes, a senior at Bandy’s High School in Catawba, N.C., even came for a few days to help work behind the scenes. She and the director met when they both screened short films at Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in April.

In addition to providing hands-on training, Team Gullah leaders host weekly workshops. These meetings allow volunteers to get to know one another better, and receive further training. Topics have ranged from interview techniques to a discussion of movies by filmmaker Pare Lorentz. “I feel like it provides good anthropological experience and exposure,” says Clingman, who volunteers about 20 hours per week. “You learn so many new things about Gullah culture.”

Volunteers realized their significance to the project when the footage they had logged was used in a trailer for the film. As of August 3rd, the trailer has received over 15,000 views. Several volunteers plan to stay on through the fall, and the team is looking forward to a productive rest of the year. For opportunities with The Gullah Project contact Production Manager Alex Cone at




Gullah music expert joins movie team

By Alex Cone and Denise McGill

Dr. Eric Crawford serves as director of music for our documentary film. In that capacity, he is tasked with finding the right songs for each scene. The Gullah Project’s score will include a mix of traditional music, modern arrangements of existing tunes and Crawford’s original compositions.

In his day job, Crawford is assistant professor of musicology at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. He studies Gullah music and its transformation since the antebellum period. Crawford says that many Gullah songs contain a high degree of musical retention since the antebellum period and carry vestiges of West African culture. He is interested in adapting classic Gullah songs to the hip hop genre so that younger audiences can hold on to their roots.

 Crawford is well qualified to be director of music for The Gullah Project. In April 2014, Coastal Carolina University’s Athenaeum Press released the compact disc, Gullah, the Voice of an Islandwhich features his field recordings on St. Helena Island from 2012-2014. The album involved students and faculty and contains the singing of four song leaders on the island: Gracie Gadson, James Smalls,  and Rosa and Joseph Murray. This project was the culmination of a seven-year study of St. Helena Island spirituals.

 Crawford says he has a natural interest in the culture’s music because it is unique in all of America. “The Gullah Geechee culture forms the root of African American music in this country,” he says. “Due to the fact that so many slaves reached America by way of Charleston ports, and that the Sea Islands presented a natural barrier from outsiders, the West African culture was strongest here.”

 “Our first musical examples, [documented in the book] Slave Songs of the United Statesof Negro spirituals, come from the Sea Islands in the 1860s,” Crawford says. “As a result, this period becomes the starting point for our understanding of the music of slave society, its language, and the emotion of black worship.”

 Crawford’s research examines how Gullah music responded to societal pressures. When slaves were prohibited from using African drums, the Gullah developed other ways to communicate and make music. “It was believed that slaves communicated through the use of drums, thus South Carolina banned the use of drums by slaves,” Crawford said. “In response, slaves relied upon handclapping, foot stamping, or occasionally a stick served to give the needed pulse or accompanying beat for a song. Even today, Gullah singers are able to tap one pattern with their foot, clap another pattern with their hands, and sing all at the same time. And these singers are quite elderly. In the end, the slave’s body became an instrument that could not be taken away.”

For generations, Gullah culture was considered backward. Places like the Penn Center on St. Helena help the community see their distinctions with pride rather than shame. Crawford has worked closely with the Penn Center to preserve songs that were once hidden from the public.

Crawford doesn’t just study music, he’s a performer. He has served as director for numerous African American choirs and ensembles. In 2016, Crawford composed and performed a jazz piano opus to commemorate the Charleston church shootings. His music puts him in touch with talented artists, whom he plans to enlist in performances for the movie score.

 The director of The Gullah Project, Denise McGill, met Crawford at the 2014 Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration. Crawford’s long term investment in Gullah culture and music expertise made him an easy choice for the film’s music chief.

 “I’m excited he’s on our team because he has the perfect blend of scholarly knowledge and musical talent,” McGill said. “He’s going to be able to find songs that are historically accurate that also fit the mood of a given scene.”

 She continued, “When you hear a traditional song, and it builds to a choir singing a modern rendition of that song – that’s the thing he’s going to be able to do with real grace.”


Gullah Project goes to Charleston

2016-chsiff-laurel-filmWe are proud to announce our film has been accepted to the 9th annual Charleston International Film Festival. The Gullah Project will screen Saturday, November 5th in the 2 PM block of short films at Charleston Music Hall. 

The entire film festival takes place November 2 – 6 in downtown Charleston.

It’s an honor to be invited to such a prestigious festival. We hope many of the stars of the film will be able to join us. St. Helena Island is 45 miles down the coastline, but it’s a 78 mile trip by car.

To find a complete list of screenings for this documentary film please visit the Screenings section of our webpage.