Our Origin Story

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You probably know the origin story of Longleaf Film Festival—which connects in time to the museum’s origins—but in case you don’t . . .

The museum got its start over 120 years ago, in 1902, when Colonel Frederick Augustus Olds displayed more than 300 curiosities from his private collection as seeds for the Hall of History, a small space in the State Museum.

Just 10 years later, several films were made in the state, including Quincy the Outlaw in Charlotte and Catawba Falls, and a few films in Bat Cave (Henderson County), including The Cave Man, The Serpents, Yellow Bird, and The Heart of Esmerelda—all in 1912. Fast forward to 2014, when the Museum of History opened Starring North Carolina!. This exhibit—created over a two-year process by museum staff—gathered artifacts and shared stories about the state’s association with filmmaking. At the time, we counted more than 3,000 films, made in 100 years, in all 100 counties. Those films included educational, promotional, and entertainment movies of all kinds. (More recently, I did a quick look and saw that, today, more than 8,000 films are credited as having North Carolina connections.)

And that leads us to Longleaf Film Festival.

The team responsible for Starring North Carolina! was brainstorming programming ideas in conjunction with the exhibit. Among those listed, I blame, I mean, credit Jerry Taylor for suggesting: “Let’s have a film festival!” I said, “Sure! Let’s do it!” We knew that a film festival would be a terrific way to honor the state’s filmmaking history while creating a forum for the future of film in our state and beyond. So, we began a film festival with zero experience. But, I knew it was possible—because (and even though) I had never attended a film festival! Our learning curve included devising a name, a logo, a budget, entry categories and a platform, prizes, jurors, plans for screening, and—So. Much. More.

In May 2015, the first Longleaf Film Festival premiered at the museum. We screened 41 films and gave out free popcorn! The program was to be a one-and-done event. But its success prompted a sequel (or nine). In subsequent years, Longleaf expanded, added workshops, panels, a Wrap Party, and Movies-N-Moonlight, our outdoor screening block. In a momentous decision, we bought our own popcorn machine. We even created a website and social media accounts!

In March 2020, COVID required the museum to close temporarily. In a matter of weeks, Longleaf Film Festival pivoted from an in-person event to one of the area’s first virtual programs. Filmmakers allowed their films to be viewed online for free; workshops and the awards presentation were live-streamed—it’s hard to remember that doing so was fairly new at the time!

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, to ensure a more welcoming festival, Longleaf began offering submission-fee waivers to directors who identified as people of color. And, beginning in 2022, Longleaf highlighted films made by historically underrepresented filmmakers who chose to be considered for three new awards: the African American Cultural Celebration Prize, the American Indian Heritage Celebration Prize, and the Latin American Communities Prize.

In Longleaf’s 10 years, we have screened 647 films—totaling 11,774 minutes—whose casts and crews number in the thousands. We’ve screened films from dozens of countries, all with a North Carolina connection of some sort. And, we’ve hosted nearly 10,000 viewers, friends, and supporters. We’ve designed, printed, stuffed, and alphabetized some 4,257 nametags. In addition, we’ve served about 20,000 cups of popcorn.

Now, what does our future hold?

Daniels Auditorium at the North Carolina Museum of History is the main screening area for Longleaf Film Festival.