Clarksville, TN – When Charles Crow started filming everyday life in downtown Clarksville, there was no such thing as YouTube or iPhones or even the Internet.
The year was 1937, and Crow, a young editor with The Leaf-Chronicle, had just purchased a 16-millimeter Keystone Camera—one of the first affordable film cameras sold in the U.S. It only captured images in black and white and without sound.
Still, what he did film is far more entertaining—particularly for Clarksville residents—than the staggering number of videos currently available online.
Crow, who would later become mayor of Clarksville, created a visual time capsule starring men in fedora hats and women sporting shoulder pads.
“The biggest thing for me was watching the hustle and bustle of Downtown Clarksville,” Kathy Lee Heuston, interim chair of the Austin Peay State University Department of Communication, said. “That’s where everything happened, that’s where everyone went to enjoy life. The movie theater was there, the newspaper. Everything was there.”
Eighty years after Crow bought his camera, Heuston and Karen Bullis, APSU assistant professor of communication, turned this raw footage into an 8-minute documentary, “Clarksville 1937,” which will have its world premiere next month during the 2018 Nashville Film Festival (NFF).
“This year the festival received nearly 5,000 shorts submissions and 215 shorts were selected,” a NFF news release stated. “Selected shorts this year include films made by Dev Patel, Justine Bateman, and Neill Blomkamp and starring Natalia Dyer, Armie Hammer, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, and Kerri Kenney.”
The “Clarksville 1937” documentary, selected for the festival’s Tennessee First Competition, will be shown at 8:45pm on May 11th, and at 5:30pm on May 14th, at the Regal Hollywood Stadium, 716 Thompson Lane, in Nashville.
Crow passed away in 1993, but his family kept the film he shot of Clarksville in the 1930s. Thanks to a grant from the Clarksville-Montgomery County Arts and Heritage Development Council, Heuston and Bullis developed an engaging documentary featuring the footage and interviews with Crow’s sons, Chris and Charles Jr., and Montgomery County Historian Eleanor Williams.
“It was so exciting to use that historical footage and to tell it through Charles Crow’s sons,” Bullis said. “With the help of Professors David von Palko and Mitsutoshi Inaba and local musician Rick Goodwin, we also found music of that time, big band music and some blues, that really helped set the pace.”
“There’s a lot of things people would recognize,” Heuston added. “But it was strange for me when I first saw things like Riverside Drive. It was all a dirt road, and they called it Front Street.”
Bullis and Heuston hope Clarksville residents will attend the world premiere at the film festival to see a bit of Clarksville history on the big screen. Once the festival is over, they plan to make it available to the public and possibly expand on this subject.
“I would love to tell a larger story about Clarksville,” Bullis said.