Virginia Tech alumnus Jim Crawford of Roanoke, Va., will premier his voices from the tobacco south documentary, “Down in the Old Belt,” on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech. The film, which begins at 7 p.m. in 2150 Torgersen Hall, is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the departments of geography, history, and agricultural and applied economics.
Guest speakers, including a world champion tobacco auctioneer who will demonstrate chanting, and a reception will follow the film’s showing. Crawford, who earned a master’s degree in geography from Virginia Tech in 1995 is a cultural geographer, writer, musicians, and cabinetmaker who has traveled across the globe. Tapes of his travels through the South Pacific by sailboard and bicycle were broadcast by WVTF-FM 89.1 public radio in 1988.
His new heart-rending film reveals the state’s tobacco history as interwoven in the lives of Virginians from Jamestown to the recent buyout program. Tobacco was the essence of life for many farmers, so with it fading from the scene, a whole culture is lost. Crawford spent several years taking oral histories of 26 Old Belt tobacco farming families to tell a story no one else has yet told.
“Today, tobacco farmers in Southside Virginia, like coal miners in Appalachia, have come upon hard times,” Crawford said. “Production moving overseas, declining quotes, society’s changing attitudes toward tobacco, and the recent buyout ending the tobacco allotment program have forever altered the cultural landscape of the Old Belt, known as the birthplace of Bright Leaf tobacco.”
The History Museum and Historical Society of Western Virginia sponsored the making of the 57-minute film. Dan Mirolli of Virginia Tech’s Visual and Broadcast Communications Department was the videographer and post producer, and Crawford served as writer and director. Assisting Mirolli in the field production were his departmental colleagues Jerry Scheeler and Keith Thomas.
Funding was provided by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, Rural Economic Analysis Program of the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the Southern Tobacco Communities Project, Dreaming Hand Foundation, Woltz and Associates, the Virginia Tech geography department, and others. Musicians included the Wolfe Brothers, the Celtibillies, Stacy Hobbs, Bill Ray, Jack Henshelwood, Tim Sauls, Jeff Hofmann, Wes Chappell, and Crawford himself.