A series of documentaries that aims to preserve and share the stories of senior citizens in the South premiered this summer. The Assisted Stories Project, created by WKU English and film professor Dr. Jerod Ra’Del Hollyfield, is debuting a new episode each week until Aug. 26 on the WKU English Department’s website. The first season features residents of three senior communities in the Bowling Green area.
“My primary goal for this project has always been to challenge perceptions of Southerners,” Hollyfield said. “There’s still a tendency to stereotype the South despite its vital cultural and economic contributions to the nation. I wanted to showcase those who made the region what it is today and focus on their individual experiences.”
Hollyfield received funding for the project through a grant from WKU’s Research and Creative Activities Program. He worked with Dr. Jason Crandall, a WKU Assistant Professor of Exercise Science, to establish partnerships with Village Manor, Chandler Park Assisted Living, and Bowling Green Towers in 2014. Before picking up a camera, Hollyfield spent nearly nine months hearing the residents’ stories and researching their lives. He began shooting on Memorial Day 2015 and premiered the series for the residents of each center one year later.
“Every one of the subjects either served in the military or had a spouse who did,” Hollyfield said. “I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend Memorial Day these past two years than working on this project.”
Hollyfield came across a wealth of stories during production, including that of John and Mame Stone, who have been married over 70 years and weathered World War II apart as Mr. Stone commanded troops under Eisenhower and Patton. Other installments of the series feature a librarian from Jackson, Mississippi, who had to shush famous author Eudora Welty for being too loud and a former hairdresser who hosted heiress and Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapping victim Patty Hearst as a guest at his wedding.
“This is the South that I know, but rarely see represented,” Hollyfield said.
Though Hollyfield directed and edited the first season with a paid crew of two students, he will step into the role of producer for future installments, handing over the creative reigns each season to a new filmmaker profiling residents in a different Southern city. Despite these changes, The Assisted Stories Project will have a permanent home on the WKU English Department’s webpage with new seasons premiering in the coming years.
“Not only has the project provided an amazing opportunity for students to develop their filmmaking skills,” says English Department Head Dr. Rob Hale, “but it has created a wonderful venue to tell the stories of some very important members of our community.”
Nine episodes of the series are available with a new film premiering every Friday at noon. The series is free and available through the WKU English Department at http://www.wku.edu/english/assisted-stories.php.
Contact: Jerod Ra’Del Hollyfield, (270) 745-3242