Artist StatementArts & Culture

Artist Statement: Julie McElmurry Talks Free Film Workshops and Unconventional Schooling

This time two years ago, The Charlotte Unconventional Film School was an idea that had not yet planted itself in Julie McElmurry’s brain.

It wasn’t until May 2017 — when she was considering taking a $2,000 documentary filmmaking class — that she realized the money could be put to better use right here in Charlotte as funding for a workshop program to bring affordable education about everything film to the community.

Julie McElmurry at a “Make a Movie” workshop on Jan. 12. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin) 

Her “school” began as a grassroots operation that required McElmurry to pile chairs, tables and sometimes even the workshop teachers into her personal vehicle.

Today, CUFS is still a humble grassroots organization, but this year they’ve got a little help from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. As we reported in December, CUFS is offering 10 free “Make a Movie” workshops between January and April thanks to a partnership with the library, which has offered space for CUFS to host the workshops at different branches around the city.

On Jan. 12, about 40 people showed up for the first class, “Secrets To Making a Successful Film,” led by local filmmaker Keema Mingo. Queen City Nerve sat down with McElmurry to talk about the new workshop series and her long-term vision for CUFS.

Q.C. Nerve: What motivated you to start Charlotte Unconventional Film School?

Julie McElmurry: In May 2017 my husband and I sat down and I was considering going to a documentary filmmaking camp. But when I looked carefully at the schedule, I realized several days of that was editing and then a couple days of interviewing which I had already done a lot of, and really just a couple of days of instruction. It was gonna cost me about $2,000, so I thought, what if instead I put $2,000 into finding local people here that could teach this stuff and I find other adults like me who wanna learn this stuff.

Keema Mingo leads “Secrets to Making a Successful Film” at the Hickory Grove library. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Keema Mingo was the instructor for “Secrets to Making a Successful Film.” What does she bring to the workshop?

Keema Mingo is kicking off our 10 different workshops we have offered through the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Keema has taught for us before, she’s a local Charlotte filmmaker and she’s a very dynamic teacher who gives a lot of great practical hands-on advice about filmmaking. This is our first of these 10 classes, and I have 10 different teachers. Hers is like a very big overview but with lots of details at the same time about how to put a film together, and that includes people knowing what kind of role they might be best suited for based on skills that they’re already coming into this with.

What do you hope people take away from the “Make-a-Movie” workshops?

I want to empower people to have the skills, knowledge, tools and relationships with each other that are going to enable people to make film so that there’s a new wave of Charlotte filmmakers making new interesting movies that haven’t been made before. Maybe about things that people haven’t made movies about, and to hear voices that maybe aren’t always heard in mainstream movie making, so really my goal is all about independent cinema, and just helping equip people to be able to make what I like to say “more [and] better movies.”  

Local filmmaker and film professor Rodney Stringfellow leads a Charlotte Unconventional Film School workshop in fall 2018. (Photo courtesy of CUFS)

How did you establish your partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library?

I go to a group once every Monday night called Charlotte Storytellers, and I’ve been doing that for two years. This past summer I was there and I was probably just mentioning something about Charlotte Unconventional Film School, and a person who worked for the library said, “It might make sense for you to talk to some other people at the library because we have an initiative that relates to what you’re doing.” That led to a meeting, and then this past fall they sponsored one of our workshops.

What is your goal for Charlotte Unconventional Film School?

I would say that my overall goal for everything is to connect people with each other. I’ve seen people meet through these workshops and work on a film together, and a few films have been made in 2018 by people that met through workshops, and I don’t micromanage that. For me the cool part is just seeing people begin to meet each other, and I don’t always get to see what happens next, but that’s what I want to do is create a space wherever I am for people to meet. So if you peeled away the logo and the topics and the way that we do stuff, that’s the underlying goal is to help people connect with each other.


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