The Last Auction
For nearly a century Bright Leaf tobacco was the king crop in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, and the town of Mullins was the state’s major tobacco market. Since 1997 the tobacco allotment has been cut in half, textile manufacturers have moved away and Mullins, a town of 5,000, has lost more than 1200 jobs. The Last Auction explores how this small rural town is struggling to reinvent itself after the crippling loss of its economic base.
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The documentary interweaves the history of Mullins with stories of townspeople, farmers and high school students in Mullins today, and the prospects they face in the future. Although The Last Auction is the story of a small South Carolina town, the issues it addresses – agricultural mechanization, rural unemployment, exodus of youth from small towns, the legacy of racial segregation, loss of manufacturing jobs, and the growing Hispanic population – are of national significance. Producer/Director – Betsy Newman Associate Producers – Amy Shumaker and Urica Pope Editor – Elaine Cooper Videography – Gaines Halford and Alejandro Baez Original Music – Steve Patnaude
Behind the Scenes
The Last Auction - Behind the Scenes Interview with Betsy Newman, the producer/director What was the inspiration behind making this program and its topic? We wanted to make the audience aware of the plight of a small town that once relied upon tobacco auctions as its economic base. If you could describe the production in one sentence what would it be? A small rural town searches for ways to recover from the loss of its economic base. What is the message that you want viewers to take away from the program? Small rural towns in our state are suffering and deserve the attention of those of us in more prosperous areas. What was the most difficult part of making the production? We had to travel a lot to and from Mullins, which is about three hours away. Because of a budget, were there any special tricks used to make the most out of a dollar without decreasing the quality of production? This production was supported in part by a grant from the Humanities Council South Carolina, which helped greatly with our costs. Were there any unforeseen obstacles (weather, actors, etc) that hindered production? No, other than the long travel distance, the production went very smoothly. Is there a defining scene and what is its significance? I think the defining scene was the tobacco auction we shot, which may have actually been the very last auction in Mullins. Has making the program given you a new appreciation for anything? I have a greater appreciation of the beauty of the Pee Dee region and the pleasures of small town life. At the same time I see how difficult it is to maintain a small town economy in a rural area. Was there extensive research done to ensure historical accuracy or was there more room for artistry? We worked with a very knowledgeable historian, Dr. Eldred Prince, of Coastal Carolina University, who provided the historical background on camera. What type of feedback has this program received? People have told us that they appreciate the attention paid to Mullins, and many have said that they remember working in tobacco when they were young.
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