Meredith Heil shows Southern pride in “Whistlin’ Dixie”


AE: Is filmmaking part of your background?

MH: Yeah, actually I just finished my Master’s program in documentary studies at the University of Santa Cruz in California. So I did experimental film in college and I did this film as part of my Master’s. This is my thesis film.

AE: Oh wow, well, congratulations! When you booked the interviews with the bands that you featured and told them what the film was about, what were their reactions?

MH: Oh they were stoked! They were so enthusiastic and gracious and excited than I ever thought they would be. As a documentary filmmaker, you always try to make sure you cover your bases and get get your footage without pissing off your subject. You’re always ready for them to say, “Get out of my face — I don’t want to do this anymore,” and I went in with that trepidation. But then, even after talking to just two people, they were just like, “This is amazing! This great visibility for us, great visibility for the South. You should talk to my friend who plays in this band. And you should talk to this person in this other band,” and it was through those connections that I got all these interviews. I mean like Melissa York and Amy Ray were always idols of mine growing up. Everybody was just so amazing and willing to help out. Southern hospitality is no joke — I’ve never experienced such kindness.

AE: I’ve seen a lot of things put on the Kickstarter website, which is a great idea. You were able to surpass your fundraising goals, but was there ever a worry that your project wouldn’t get funded?

MH: I was worried of course because I had never done a Kickstarter campaign before. As soon as I launched, within a couple of days we were already halfway there so I was really stoked. I’ve been doing some promotional stuff for about a year and a half trying to get people interested with the website and Facebook page. Indiewire did a spot on it, so I’ve kind of had a lot of publicity. A lot of friends actually donated who I wasn’t expecting to, which was really really nice. And strangers donated. I just couldn’t believe it.

AE: What were some of the stories that moved you the most while making this?

MH: Heather McEntire is the tour de force down there. She’s in three different bands that are all equally amazing and she also heads up a record label and it was such an honor to talk to her. I’ve had a crush on her for like five years so I was super nervous but it was great. I didn’t know much about her background but I found out she grew up in a South Baptist Church and a really really strictly Christian household in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. And to hear about her talk about how her parents worked for Billy Graham, with not contempt in her voice necessarily, but with a lot of knowledge — and really talk about how that influences her music, especially with Mount Moriah, her newest project. She had this very calm way of saying, “This is what I took from growing up in such a religious household, I took the music and not the message”. And I thought that was a really interesting perspective on how growing up in, what we consider, the traditional South, influences someone who is on the forefront of queer art right now.

AE: There’s a screening tour coming up?

MH: Yep, I’m going on a cross-country screening tour around the US. I’m booking shows in a different way than most documentary filmmakers or filmmakers in general I guess. I’m not as interested in big film festivals. I’m kind of leery of the whole, “You pay me $200 to watch my film” thing. It’s not the kind of scene I want to be participating in. So I’ve been focused on booking screenings kind of like booking bands. So turning it into more of a musical event than just a film event. So if you go to a screening it will probably be held in a bar or a house party and we’ll have a projector set up and maybe a sheet to play it on. We’ll have a couple of bands to play, local bands and touring bands depending on where the show is. I’m really excited about this format. Basically I really wanted to participate in the scene and in the community instead of just documenting it.

AE: Well, in a way, it sounds like you’re kind of bringing the South with you everywhere you go. Do you have the dates of everywhere you’ll be lined up and accessible?

MH: Yeah, at there’s a tab there for the D.I.Y. screening tour. People can also contact me and let me know if they’d like to come play and share the stage. A lot of these places I’ve never been to so I’m excited to show in as many places as possible. There’s also a call-out for dates you can find on my Facebook page.

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