VANCOUVER — When 61-year-old Vancouver filmmaker Beth Harrington decided to take on what she knew was an “ambitious project” making an independent documentary film looking at the origins of country music through the original Carter family, she had no idea that she was going to be working on the film for more than a decade.
“I was surprised no one had ever made a film looking at the origins of country music through the Carter family,” Harrington said. “I decided to take on what I knew was an ambitious project, and it happened to be during a time when the film business was crashing. It’s taken over a decade to make and technically I’m still making it. I got to experience every part, every phase of the film, from production to deciding which festivals to put it in, to who to have distribute it.”
Harrington’s film, “The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and The Course of Country Music,” first premiered in 2014 at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas. The film looks at the origins of American roots music through the careers of some of the earliest stars of country music — the Carters. The film looks at the original Carter family members, A.P. Carter, Sara and Maybelle, and also June Carter and husband Johnny Cash.
Although Harrington has had great success with the film — it has won several awards, was shown in 30 festivals around the world and 80 theaters across the country, and both the film and soundtrack are in consideration for the first round of votes for the 2017 Grammy Awards — she said the process of making this film has been a long one, with a lot of trial and error.
Due to the trial and error, and the learning experiences that Harrington went through while making this film, she has decided to hold a documentary film seminar in order to help other filmmakers who are interested in making films during the ever-changing landscape that is filmmaking.
The seminar, titled Docs, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, will be held Sat., Nov. 19, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at The Columbia Collective, 810 Main St., in Vancouver. The cost to attend this seminar is $125. According to the description of the seminar on “The Winding Stream” website: “Due to major changes in the film industry making these documentaries has not been a walk in the park. They’ve required an almost obsessive commitment to complete, an attachment that Harrington sometimes likens to addiction. Not necessarily a healthy occupation.”
“With this in mind, she is offering a day-long seminar to discuss documentary filmmaking in the present day, using her film ‘The Winding Stream’ and its recent critical success as a case study. She’ll discuss the mechanics of filmmaking including music and archival image clearance, as well as financing, festival submissions, theatrical screenings, and educational and digital distribution.”
“What other filmmakers need is to be advised by other filmmakers,” Harrington said. “For this seminar, I’m really going to be using ‘The Winding Stream’ as a case study. We’re going to look at it start to finish, see what went wrong and what went right, look at the trailers, the demos, Facebook pages, documents I generated, things that worked out and things that didn’t.”
Harrington said she really wants to encourage other filmmakers to be more creative with how they do films and how they think about making them.
“Everyone wants to be successful (in film),” Harrington said. “People need to look at things like, ‘yes, this great thing happened with my film, but here’s how it happened.’ It’s all about trying to put the pieces together.”
Harrington said she is encouraging all kinds of people to attend her seminar, from filmmakers who have maybe already made a few documentaries and have project ideas, to new filmmakers who have never made a film before.
“This is a completely different world we’re working in,” she said.
The journey to becoming a filmmaker
Harrington grew up in the Boston area, and said she’s always had a media background that stemmed from her family. Her father had an advertising background and her mother was an art teacher.
As a teenager, Harrington was interested in rock ‘n’ roll and worked at a radio station during her high school years. She went on to college thinking she was going to focus on radio and attended Syracuse University and obtained her undergraduate degree in public communications, television/radio. After she started getting into script writing, she realized American studies was something she should learn more about in order to do the kind of projects she wanted to, so she went on to obtain her master’s degree in that field of study at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Also during her late 20s, Harrington was a singer and guitar player for a rock ‘n’ roll band called Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers. The band was signed on the Warner Brothers Sire Records label, and Harrington described the band as “very culty,” saying people either really liked them or really didn’t.
After playing and touring with the band for a few years, Harrington began seriously working in media on a freelancing basis. Through Boston’s Documentary Guild and WGBH, she did some work producing various shows for PBS such as NOVA, Frontline and more. It was during this time that she met a volcano scientist from Vancouver, Andy Lockhart, who would later become her husband. Harrington moved to Vancouver about 20 years ago, and the two have been married for 17 years.
Harrington now works regularly with OPB producing, researching and developing shows for national broadcasts. She has also independently produced several other documentaries, “Welcome to the Club — The Women of Rockabilly,” “The Blinking Madonna and Other Miracles,” “The Moveable Feast” and others. She has won numerous awards for many of these documentaries, and also has a Netflix deal for “The Winding Stream.”