‘Bathanti’ the Movie
Writer and North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti said he
was humbled when filmmaker Kevin Balling approached him about producing a documentary that
featured his work.
The paths of the creative professionals became intertwined due, in part, to a mutual friend and colleague at Appalachian State University — English professor Leon Lewis, who was aware that Balling was searching for a writer to feature in a full-length documentary.
It didn’t take long for Balling to realize Bathanti was his man.
An award-winning author, Bathanti has published numerous books of poetry, novels and short stories, while also teaching creative writing at Appalachian. He’s the writer-in-residence for the university’s Watauga Global Community, as well as director of its Writing in the Field program.
“I went to the library and got a bunch of his books and bam, I knew this was who I wanted to do the documentary on,” said Balling, who taught electronic media and broadcasting at Appalachian, before retiring in 2011. “We have parallel lives. He grew up in Pittsburgh (Pa.) in an Italian, middle-class, working family. I did the same thing, but in New York City. As I was reading his work, it was sort of like reading my own life in a way, so I knew it would be a good partnership.”
To complete the documentary, the duo hit the road to visit Bathanti’s hometown in Pennsylvania to shoot footage of locales he drew from when writing novels, poetry and other types of prose.
“We revisited key childhood places that were featured prominently in my work, and that was what he was focusing on,” Bathanti said.
One such location is the church where Bathanti’s parents were married, conjuring powerful emotions for both the viewer and writer, Balling said.
In the documentary, images of fixtures in Bathanti’s work are shown, as the writer recites some of his work.
“I hope people will take away that this was a collaboration,” Balling said. “His words provided for me, as a filmmaker, with good visuals, picture/sound relationship, and my soundtrack worked well with his words.”
“It was humbling that someone would spend that kind of time with your work,” Bathanti said. “I’m a little embarrassed, because there I am. It’s all about me, me, me. But it’s a wonderful tribute. I’m especially moved because it’s also a tribute to my family.”
Altogether, the film took approximately five years to complete — a labor of love for
Balling, who taught for 29 years and has made independent videos for 30.
“We did a lot of traveling together, and one of the great things that happened between us was that we became great friends,” Bathanti said. “Kevin is just a great guy. I’m just honored that someone of his caliber was interested about making a film about me and my work.”
“It was sort of like just hanging out with him, except there was a camera going all the time,” Balling said. “Things just clicked.”
The entire process was also an opportunity for Bathanti to learn about a different type of art.
“I learned a lot about filmmaking,” he said. “I valued the quite a bit of time on the road with Kevin, visiting places. I really dug the road time.”
The end product also surpassed all expectations.
“It’s amazing how powerful words and images collaborate to really bring things to life,” Bathanti said.
As part of the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series, Appalachian State University will screen the film Monday, Nov. 25. The showing begins at 7 p.m. in the Greenbriar Theater in Plemmons Student Union. “Bathanti” is one hour and 12 minutes long. This event is free and the public is invited.
For more information on the documentary or to see a clip, visit http://www.tinroofvideo.com.