A made-for-TV film about Beaufort's Gullah people and history will be screened at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts on July 19. There will also be a concert performed by local musical entertainers and the film's stars Aunt Pearlie Sue and The Gullah Kinfolk.
"Circle Unbroken -- A Gullah Journey from Africa to America" is part musical performance, part documentary and "portrays the origins of the Gullah culture from its early roots in Africa to modern time," according to a press release. It was shot entirely on location in and around Beaufort and the Sea Islands over five days in April.
Gullah people are descendants of slaves who lived in the Lowcountry and on the Sea Islands and developed a unique language and culture.
"Circle Unbroken" is the latest project from producer Ron Small, who has worked with Aunt Pearlie Sue and The Gullah Kinfolk several times over the past 17 years.
Aunt Pearlie Sue is the performance name for Anita Singleton-Prather, a native of the Sea Islands and founder of The Gullah Kinfolk. Singleton-Prather and her 20-person ensemble spread the cultural history of the Gullah lifestyle through language, dance, music, food and crafts. Singleton-Prather wrote "Circle Unbroken" and narrates the film.
"The magic of Anita and her passion for this is magnetic and contagious, and you can't help but get pulled into it," Small said.
Small first worked with Singleton-Prather in the late '90s on a PBS special called "Tales From the Land of Gullah."
"That became a catalyst of my love for Gullah culture," he said. "If you're African-American in America, chances are your ancestors came in right there on those shores (in Beaufort). I've always found it a fascinating story."
The story and the musicality of the Gullah spirituals brought director Clark Santee out of retirement for the project.
"If someone calls me with a great project, I'm thrilled to do it," he said. "I think (viewers) are going to have some insight into an extremely colorful culture."
The Sea Islands had a different kind of slavery than other regions that were geared toward cotton production, he said. "The people were brought from Africa to work as slaves, but once work was done, they were free to do what they wanted. They could weave baskets, sing their songs and maintain their traditions of Africa; their culture wasn't completely stripped from them as it was with other slaves."
For Singleton-Prather, "A Circle Unbroken," was a chance to share Gullah origins and history with younger audiences. Three of her grandchildren took part in the film.
"For them to be able to be a part of this and see locations that depict the special moments in our story made it come alive for them," she said. "Knowing I was able to pass the story down to the next generation was extremely rewarding."
Once the film screens at the Center for the Arts, it will be pitched to various distributors and will likely be on TV in some fashion, Small said. He isn't worried about the film's marketability, he added.
"This is timeless. It's something that should be popular and valuable for many many years to come."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.