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Working from home

By Taylor Sisk
Staff Writer

Harvesting sweet potatoes, from Minnow Media's Harvest of Dignity. Photo by Peter Eversoll

Donna Campbell and Georgann Eubanks, owners and operators of Carrboro-based multimedia production company Minnow Media, have traveled wide in documenting lives and discovering truths – but North Carolina’s home.

“We’ve been all over,” Campbell says, “but North Carolina is still where I want to do this work. It’s where I feel the work most needs to be done.”

Campbell is from Iredell County. Eubanks came to Duke in 1975 from Atlanta and never left. They know the terrain and the people who traverse it.

For example: Campbell and Eubanks produced three documentaries in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd (Hard Rain, Higher Ground and Faces From the Flood), standing with families amid the obliteration of their homes and destruction of their communities, then witnessing, over the course of a decade, as they rebuilt their lives.

Change, transformation, is at the heart of Minnow Media’s work.

“Our work does have some common threads,” Eubanks says, describing “a mission to tell stories about people and places and events on the brink of change,” stories of transition. It’s about social and individual transformation, Eubanks says. “We’ve been pretty faithful to that.”

Such was the spirit behind the Floyd documentaries – stories, Eubanks says, “about losing everything and picking up and starting over … in the category of ‘never-be-the-same-again’” – and it’s the spirit defining their recent documentary Harvest of Dignity, which airs on UNC-TV tonight (Thursday) at 10.

Harvest of Dignity is a follow-up to Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 epic documentary Harvest of Shame, which looked at the lives of farmer workers, largely in North Carolina, Murrow’s home state. Fifty years later, Campbell and Eubanks set out to explore conditions for these workers today. “What has changed? What has not?”

Their finding? Much has; much has not.

“These farmworkers are invisible to most people in this state,” Campbell says. “People buy their groceries every day and they don’t think about where they come from; they don’t think about who’s picking their tomatoes.”

According to Steve Davis, an outreach worker in Greene County interviewed in Harvest of Dignity, 95 percent to 98 percent of the farmworkers in his county are Latino. When Harvest of Shame was made, most of those faces were black. The faces have changed, but the conditions are in many respects the same.

Raul Gamez from Harvest of Dignity. Photo Courtesy of Harvest of Dignity/Minnow Media

The Fair Labor Standards Act, for example, still allows children to begin working at a younger age and to work longer hours in agriculture than in other industries.

“We have the same dreams and aspirations as everybody else,” Raul Gamez says in Harvest of Dignity. Gamez comes from a family of migrant laborers and now works with the children of farmworkers in collecting oral histories and producing plays around them.

These kids comprise the fabric of the future of North Carolina.

“Look around,” Campbell says, by way of explaining that inclination to pursue her work here at home. She viewed producing Harvest of Dignity as “an opportunity to tell a story to people in North Carolina about North Carolina. It’s happening right here, and people don’t know about it.”

We have our preconceptions of what labor camps must look like – essentially, clusters of clapboard. Drive to the coast, Campbell says, and you won’t see many of those. Today’s “camp” is more likely a trailer park or a rambling old farmhouse, just within or out of view. Campbell and Eubanks urge you to have a look at the lives beyond.

Division of labor

The Minnow Media team was formed 12 years ago. Campbell was in the media business with her sister, Susan, in Iredell County, and Eubanks, a writer and teacher of writing, was chair of the N.C. Humanities Council.

“The short version of the story is that we got to know each other because Charles Kuralt died on July 4, 1997,” Eubanks says.

Young children work long hours. Photo by Peter Eversoll

The humanities council was preparing to honor Kuralt with its John Tyler Caldwell Award for lifetime achievement. When he died prior to the presentation, the council interviewed the Campbells about producing a video on his life, but the donor chose to go with a New York firm.

Eubanks was impressed with the Campbells’ work though, and, having long held an interest in exploring video projects, she and Donna Campbell set up shop in Carrboro.

They chose Minnow Media as the name of their firm because, Eubanks says, “we think documentary work is like going fishing. You go out and you throw your line in the water and you don’t know what you’re going to come up with, and then you go home and you make something out of it.”

“It’s that sort of unknown quality of the work that’s really interesting to me,” Eubanks says, “and then Donna has this incredible gift of editing, and editing with music, that can be very emotionally powerful.”

Eubanks does most of the writing and Campbell is in charge of the visual aspect, but both play numerous roles. And both interact directly with their subjects.

“To be able to talk with someone and have them tell their story in the first person, eyeball to eyeball, is very powerful,” Campbell adds. “I love being able to help that happen, and then get out of the way.”

In Harvest of Dignity, Jeri Hawkins, a nurse who assists migrant farm workers in Pasquotank County, points out a camp from Harvest of Shame that still stands, noting that, in general, “Things haven’t changed much.”

Minnow Media will continue to document how they have and haven’t.

“I hope it doesn’t take another 50 years,” Hawkins says.

“The thing about our projects,” Eubanks says, “is that they’re never over.”

  1. Jennifer Riley

    Awesome article about 2 people. One I know from about 20 years ago. The other from roughly 1 year ago. Everyone craves synergy. Thanks for sharing Minnow Media.