In undergrad at Youngstown State University, I had the opportunity to work as lead student producer on the pilot episodes of Homework Express, a call-in, homework help show for middle schoolers. The pilot episodes were used to secure funding and launch a full season of the show. Homework Express ended running for numerous years and garnering a regional Emmy nomination. When I came to the University of Tennessee, I knew I wanted to create the same kinds of opportunities for my students.
I’ve been able to achieve this goal through the Emmy-nominated documentary production program I created and direct at the University of Tennessee, Land Grant Films. The mission of Land Grant is to provide University of Tennessee students with real world documentary production experience while provide local non-profit organizations and community groups with video assets they can use to raise awareness and funds.
Through Land Grant Films, I produce and direct documentaries, social videos, and other projects. The vast majority of my projects are student-crewed, with UT students serving in significant roles, such as producers, camera operators and editors. I also executive produce and mentor student-led projects through Land Grant.
Land Grant Films projects has won numerous awards and has been nominated for two Emmy awards. Our films have screened at more than a dozen film festivals, aired on local and regional television, and been covered extensively by local and national media. Land Grant projects have been funded through support from the Corporation for Television Broadcasting, Humanities Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, and other organizations and individuals. In all, I have raised more than $400,000 in internal and external support for Land Grant Films during the last 8 years.
The goal of most of my documentaries is to share information about topics, which are widely discussed yet misunderstood. The three documentaries I have directed and produced – The Library That Dolly Built, 7 Days in America, and Reaching Recovery – fit this description, though in different ways.
With 7 Days and Reaching Recovery, we were addressing issues in the news – refugee resettlement and babies born drug dependent, respectively – which, though widely discussed, were not well understood by the public. For both these issues, legislation was being drafted or in the process of being renewed, and we made the films in order to provide in-depth explanation and allow for full discussion of the topics.
While seemingly different, The Library That Dolly Built is strikingly similar. The Imagination Library is a nearly ubiquitous program in East Tennessee. Nearly 80 percent of children in Knox County receive books from the Imagination Library. Nationally, around 8 percent of all children get books from Dolly. I found that despite being one of the largest literacy programs in country many participants, administrators and fans of the program didn’t really know a lot about the program. The goal of the films was to fill these gaps and provide a comprehensive history of Tennessee’s greatest export, the Imagination Library.
The Library That Dolly Built is a feature length documentary about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The film was directed and produced by Nick Geidner, edited by Clinton Elmore and crewed by University of Tennessee students. Author and actress Danica McKellar narrated the documentary. The film was originally supposed to screen in 330 theaters nationwide. The COVID-inspired online premiere reached more than a million viewers and raised more than $250,000 of the Imagination Library. The film is currently available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and Kanopy.
7 Days in America follows a case worker from Bridge Refugee Services as she helps a family of Burundian refugees as they resettle in Knoxville, Tennessee. The film aired on East Tennessee PBS, screened at the Knoxville Film Festival and the Immigration Film Festival in Washington D.C. It also won an award of excellence in the Broadcast Education Association’s Media Arts Festival faculty competition.
In the year we produced this film, nearly 1,000 children in Tennessee were born drug dependent. Reaching Recovery examines this terrible phenomenon plaguing our state. This half-hour film presents a comprehensive view of the problem and documents the struggles addicted mothers face in reaching recovery. Reaching Recovery aired on WBIR, Knoxville’s NBC affiliate, as part of an hour-long primetime special.
Along with long-form documentaries, I also like to experiment with short-form content made for social media spaces.
This video is part of a pilot project to produce short, localized explainer videos for distribution on social media platforms.
This video was part of a five-video series highlighting local individuals’ experience during the pandemic.
This is a video essay I produced about standardized testing in K-12 education during the pandemic. It was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.
I also regularly work with local non-profits and community groups to provide video resources and support. Here are a couple of the videos I’ve produced recently.