One of the most quietly productive filmmaking partnerships in the Triangle is that of Raleigh’s Neal Hutcheson, who makes the films, and N.C. State linguistics professor Walt Wolfram, who provides the mission and the executive production through the North Carolina Language and Life Project. Their studies of lingering rural dialects have led to four films, the most recent of which, The Queen Family, will air nationally on PBS this Sunday, and locally next Wednesday, Oct 4 at 8:30 p.m.
The Queen Family is a half-hour profile of one of the last families of mountain musicians, the eponymous clan of back porch pickers from Jackson County, about an hour west of Asheville. The Queens are lingering remnants of a tradition that stretches even further back than the celebrated Carter Family of eastern Tennessee. Matriarch Mary Jane Queen is in her mid-90s, and is still spry enough to tend to her property when she’s not belting out country, bluegrass, gospel and hundreds of Anglo-Irish ballads. Many of her children and grandchildren are still around, and they join her for impromptu picking sessions.
Much of the folk culture of the mountains derives from the need to entertain oneself due to the remoteness of the region, a geographical fact that remains largely unchanged. Still, there is an Internet even in the southern highlands of North Carolina, and satellite dishes and Wal-Marts make it less incumbent upon the inhabitants to entertain themselves. As we see in Hutcheson’s film, the Queens have made their peace with modernity, yet continue to play.
The Queen Family airs locally on UNC-TV, Channel 4, next Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 8:30 p.m. PBS is distributing the film on video and DVD. For more information, go to www.queenfamilymovie.com. For more on the North Carolina Language and Life Project: www.talkingnc.com.