Watch: “Anytown USA” Student Videos on Robbins, North Carolina

One small town.
Seven stories.
Seven filmmakers.

Despite popular misconceptions, the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians live in towns of 5,000 people or less. We are a state of small towns. In fact, NC has the second-most number of small towns in the country.

But all is not well. The mass exodus of manufacturing abroad as well as urban flight has devastated small towns. Many are on the verge of disappearing forever.

Anytown USA, created and taught by Randolph Benson, is an annual filmmaking production and editing course in which one small town is featured. Intermediate to advanced continuing education student filmmakers tell stories of their choice within the town. Together the short films form a nuanced, intimate portrait of communities as they struggle to survive. This year’s class focused on the town of Robbins, North Carolina. The films were screened in Robbins as well as the Full Frame Theater on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.

Now available for your viewing pleasure, all of the 2015 Anytown, USA student films:

Tom Adams School Days
While many rural school districts struggle with low performance, falling enrollment, teacher shortages, and funding issues, the schools in Robbins have created a culture of success. School Days examines how that culture evolved and what is being done to ensure it continues.

Tom Adams grew up in rural Wake County before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. After service in the navy and graduate school, Tom held positions in engineering and R&D with major chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Now retired, Tom’s documentary and volunteer interests focus on public education and homelessness. This is Tom’s third film for Anytown, USA.

Leslie Baker | Las Mujeres de San Juan (The Women of San Juan)
In a small southern town where half the residents are Spanish-speaking immigrants, San Juan Diego Catholic Church serves as a vital meeting place for the close-knit Latino community. Las Mujeres de San Juan is an inside look at the church through the eyes of its female leaders.

Leslie Baker is a photographer, aspiring filmmaker, and North Carolina native. She is currently working toward a Certificate in Documentary Arts at CDS. Leslie is interested in documenting the changing people and culture in small Southern communities. This is her first film.

James BalfourHope: A Profile of the Northern Moore Family Resource Center
In 1996, the Northern Moore Family Resource Center was started to support families by focusing on education for children and improving housing conditions. Its programs have included GED classes, after-school and summer camp programs, financial education, and toys and clothing for children, among others. Under Executive Director Clare Ruggles’ leadership, the Center is currently establishing a low-cost preschool, the Hope Academy, in Robbins, which is scheduled to open in August.

James Balfour grew up in Chapel Hill and now resides in Mebane. He has a BS and MA from Appalachian State University in Boone and currently works in computer support. James is an ardent photographer and is now seeking a certificate at CDS with a concentration in film.

Clifton DowellBird in Hand/Más Vale Pájaro en Mano Que Cien Volando
The wrecked economy of Robbins isn’t going to be easy to revive. The town has only 1,000 residents, but it’s managed to lose more than 1,200 jobs over the last few decades. The water plant is closed, the downtown buildings mostly empty, and the mill that once formed the backdrop for much of Robbins life lies in a heap of bricks and burned timbers that the town can’t afford to clean up. Anchoring the mostly empty northern end of a county famous for the golf resorts and million-dollar homes located 26 miles to the south, the town is invisible to government planners. If the residents of Robbins want to bring the town back, they’ll have to do it themselves.

Clifton Dowell earned his Certificate in Documentary Arts from CDS in 2007. He works as a journalist in Raleigh.

Shelia Huggins Mechanics Hill
War Sport might just be the second coming of guns for the town of Robbins. With a proud nod to their family heritage and tradition in manufacturing, Martha and Joey Boswell design and build advanced weapons systems in a 20,000-square-foot facility in their hometown.

Shelia Huggins is an attorney who spends her spare time capturing and sharing stories of the changing economic environment in communities throughout North Carolina.

David Puckett | Clyde’s Place
Every Tuesday people travel many miles to enjoy southern cooking, live music, and good company at the Maness Pottery and Music Barn. Clyde Maness, the barn’s founder and operator, has been opening the doors to his barn since 1974 and has many stories to tell.

David Puckett is a filmmaker and photographer living in Durham. He earned a degree in journalism and media production at East Carolina University. He is currently the photographer and videographer for the Duke University Talent Identification Program and a CDS certificate candidate.

Kelly Sims | Holding On
Holding On is a portrait of self-taught canoeist William McDuffie. He has witnessed the local creek in his hometown of Robbins transform from a junk yard to a sliver of paradise. His reflections on the past reinforce his determination to give the community memories that they, too, will never forget.

Kelly Sims has bachelor’s degrees in Creative Photography and International Humanitarian Assistance from the University of Florida. With an interest in oral history and telling stories to aid nonprofits, she moved to Durham to study audio and filmmaking.

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