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A filmmaker’s perspective on North Carolina

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The Lebanese in North Carolina Project is dedicated to collecting, curating and disseminating materials of the Lebanese-American experience in the state. Like most materials, the generous donations from families captures life in North Carolina from the Lebanese perspective. But, what about the context within which many Lebanese-Americans lived?

When we hear stories of peddlers and immigrants moving into agricultural towns especially in the 1930s-40s, we often hear that they were in the minority. Census data, oral histories and other historical sources confirm that fact.  But, don’t you wonder what that kind of environment looked like? The materials donated by the community do not often illustrate what the people looked like, what kind of cars were on the road, how the city looked at the time.  Which means we have to look to additional sources to provide a social, cultural, racial and historical context and tell a fuller story. That’s where the silent films of H. Lee Waters come in!

From 1936-1942, H. Lee Waters, an itinerant filmmaker and North Carolina native, traveled to 118 cities in NC, SC, VA and TN to make “hometown movies.”  He shot hours of footage of ordinary people in the community walking to work, buying groceries and hanging out.  These films show the world in which Lebanese-Americans and new immigrants lived and thrived.  These films are so striking that we used a clip in our documentaryCedars in the Pines. Check out a short video on H. Lee Waters’ life and work.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3rY2a2jamA&w=420&h=315]

To view H. Lee Waters’ films, check out Duke University’s collection to see if they have footage of a city you’re interested in!

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