Anytown USA: Documentary Studies Students Go Inside Siler City

Student videos follow a town's immigrants, journalists, musicians and a committee of vultures

A portrait of Tony Williamson, a mandolin virtuoso and vintage instrument dealer whose roots run deep in the rural piedmont of North Carolina. Video by Marie Bongiovanni.

Anytown, USA is a documentary video production and editing class created and taught by Randolph Benson at the Center for Documentary Studies.

Each year, students produce and edit short documentary videos on topics of their choice related to a small town in North Carolina. In 2017, students focused on the town of Siler City.

Above, when a committee of vultures begins roosting in their neighborhood, a community and a town manager come face-to-beak with native wildlife. The video was created by Hunter Atkins, who is currently working toward a certificate at the Center for Documentary Studies. As a filmmaker, Hunter documents the South’s cultural and natural heritage.

Below, Casey Freeman Howe, an emerging filmmaker based in Durham, looks inside The Chatham News, a weekly community newspaper that has been owned by the same family for more than 75 years. Howegrew up in the rural Ozarks and has called California, the District of Columbia, and North Carolina home.

Above, in 1997, when he was seventeen, Max Ayala started walking from his country, El Salvador, to the United States, crossing three countries in over a month. In 2000, when she was fifteen, Cristi Marquez undertook a similar journey from Mexico with her seven-year-old brother. The two immigrants talk about their scary journey, how they met in Siler City, and how they’ve made an ideal life for themselves despite being undocumented. The video is by Haitham Alrikaby, an Iraqi native who currently lives in Columbia, S.C.

Below, Albert McClain is one of the oldest African-American residents of Siler City. He was born at a time when there were no formal streets in the city, and the folks in town knew everyone by name. While he has seen Siler City change tremendously over time, in his experience, one thing has stayed the same: The joy of relating to people without prejudice. This is the story of one man’s remarkable view of life in a small town in the rural South. The film is directed by Brenda Jamerson, an academic health scientist and community health advocate.

Successful writer, speaker, and teacher; devoted wife, mother, and grandmother: Cecilia Budd Grimes shares her love of the South, pride in her family business, and expertise in all things etiquette in this film by Alan Young.