DOC Savannah engages the community through local nonfiction stories

Savannah is no stranger to Hollywood, and has seen many major movies and TV shows filmed here, but one local group, DOC Savannah, found a new angle and is turning the lens around to focus on filmmakers in Savannah, specifically nonfiction films.

“When I came to Savannah in 2015, I was surprised with all of the industry that is here, there really wasn’t a space for independent filmmakers to kind of come together and support each other and help each other out with projects or groups that were focused specifically also in nonfiction filmmaking,” said one of the group’s co-founders Abbey Hoekzema.

Hoekzema, a filmmaker herself and a professor of film production at Georgia Southern University, credits Urban Mentoring Academy founder Tre Singleton with inspiring her to reach out and find others who would be interested in a nonfiction filmmaking group.

“He would always tell me to speak things into existence, because if you don’t, then nothing will happen. So, I just kind of reached out widely on social media, either to see who else were nonfiction filmmakers in Savannah and I found there were other voices in the dark,” said Hoekzema.

The group formed in September, 2018, with Hoekzema, Elizabeth Kaiser, Kyle Maddux-Lawrence and Zachery Page co-founding the organization. 

At that time, the group was meeting casually at different restaurants and coffee shops, but it started expanding quickly.

DOC Savannah aims to serve as a platform for nonfiction filmmakers and the communities of the Coastal Empire and the Lowcountry in Georgia and South Carolina as a resource to inform, entertain, enrich and inspire change through documentary film. It is a group for documentary filmmakers and supporters as well.

“I had noticed a lot of filmmakers come here and they film, and then they leave. Also, the stories aren’t about Savannah. They’re always about other places and there are so many stories here. We really want to be a space that can nurture a new group of local nonfiction storytellers,” said Hoekzema.

As the group was gaining momentum they started hosting screenings and workshops in addition to the general meetings until the pandemic hit but that didn’t stop them from progressing their mission. They regrouped in 2020 and formed as a nonprofit to grow and better support others in the area that wanted to tell stories about their community.

One of their initiatives is DOC Savannah Shorts which consist of micro-shorts that shine a light on groups or individuals in the area. 

So far, the series includes a piece on Molly Lieberman’s Loop It Up Savannah collecting art supplies for Chatham County youth during the pandemic and a piece on Pat Gunn about the renaming process of Calhoun Square located in the historic district of downtown Savannah. 

All of these films can be found on their website. 

“They have a story that they feel needs to be told and we can help with that. Our members have been documenting a lot and we want to start bringing these different people together to show what we’ve been working on,” said Hoekzema.

The group has also screened other documentaries from other filmmakers in the region, especially those with a subject that can be specifically related to Savannah and the South. 

This helped the group get known to a much wider audience.

They hosted their first screening in April, 2021, at the Old Dairy Farm for a documentary by regional filmmaker Bo McGuire called Socks on Fire.  

After applying for and receiving a PBS POV grant the group hosted two more documentary screenings in October and November.

With the use of the grant ,DOC Savannah used a creative writing contest, panel discussions with activist, a mural mosaic workshop and screenings of “The Neutral Ground” and “Pier Kids” to expand Chatham County residents’ understanding of the social issues that affect their communities like how to discuss the Confederate monuments and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

“We selected ‘Neutral Ground’ because it relates to our own Confederate monument at Forsyth, and felt that that was something that set within talking about bringing people together to talk about issues, which is also a cornerstone for that grant,” said Hoekzema. “We picked ‘Pier Kids’ as an additional film in that grant series, mainly to help draw awareness for our LGBT youth in the Savannah area and so the grant allowed us to make education partners.”

They partnered with the National Art Honor Society at Savannah Arts Academy for “Pier Kids,” and they are in the process of designing and building a mural inspired by the documentary and two other short films that they would provide instructions for. 

They partnered with Deep Center for “Neutral Ground,” and the students have been working with the filmmakers and the research team on materials that will be presented later. 

The group wants to continue to expand on their collaborations and partnerships. 

“We have very long-term goals, but in the intermediate or the immediate future, we want to start presenting area filmmakers work. We’ve been talking about doing some workshops and we want to expand education and opportunities for high school and college students,” said Hoekzema.

DOC Savannah is open for more to join whether you are a filmmaker, educator or just love seeing and discussing nonfiction films. More information can be found about future screenings and programs at docsavannah.org 

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