The fruit of Julian Price’s efforts to revitalize downtown Asheville may be experienced on a daily basis, but due to his purposeful avoidance of recognition for his numerous contributions, the man himself and the stories behind his philanthropy have largely eluded the public eye.
Before being approached about helming the documentary Julian Price: Envisioning Community, Investing in People, which premieres Thursday, May 26, at The Orange Peel, local independent filmmaker and oral historian Erin Derham was one of the uninitiated. But once the director of Buskin’ Blues and Walk Into History: Asheville’s Urban Trail began learning about all Price had done for the city, she became invested in providing others with a similar epiphany.
Already committed to the film after meeting with Karen Ramshaw, vice president of the Price-founded development company Public Interest Projects, and hearing the respect, gratitude and love that Ramshaw and PIP President Pat Whalen had for Price, Derham spoke with his widow, Meg MacLeod. Derham can’t recall exactly what prompted the waterworks, but less than 10 minutes into their conversation about Price, both she and MacLeod were in tears, and she knew she was dealing with a special endeavor.
“When you’re in film, you’re dealing with other industry people or you’re dealing with a marketing company that’s asking you to do something very specific. This was so different. It was family members and friends just wanting to preserve a piece of what [Price] did,” Derham says. “Once I talked with Meg, I was sold [on the project, and] I was going to work on it nonstop until it was done.”
MacLeod and Ramshaw were specific about not wanting the film to cover Price’s entire life or much of Asheville’s past. But in order to set the scene for Price’s work, Derham interviewed local historian Kevin Frasier for background on why Asheville was in such disrepair in the 1990s.
The rest of the interviewees were selected by MacLeod and Ramshaw. They were filmed by Derham along with project collaborator Robert Klein, director of photography Chris Cassels, Scott Campbell — one of the film’s producers — and audio engineers Adam Johnson and David Schmidt.
In addition to Price’s remaining local family members, his daughter, Rachel Price, flew in from the West Coast, and his former golf buddies provided some of the film’s more amusing anecdotes. Other voices represent the range of people and facets of Asheville affected by Price’s philanthropy. They include Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball, former Asheville GreenWorks Executive Director Susan Roderick, Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes and Joe Minicozzi, principal of PIP consulting company Urban3 and former executive director for the Asheville Downtown Association.
A filmmaker and digital archivist herself, Rachel Price proved a tremendous asset in sorting through home movies shot by her and her father, digitizing potential clips and sending them to Derham. Whenever possible, Derham used this archival footage to capture the spirit of a charismatic family man with a tremendous sense of humor.
“The majority of people who knew him in Asheville remember him as this really quiet guy who stuck to himself and never talked, but if you talk to Karen or Pat or any of the people who worked with him daily, he was the smartest and funniest person they’d ever met. He kind of saved that for when he felt comfortable,” Derham says. “People who knew him might be shocked by seeing how goofy he was.”
True to Price’s collaborative nature, Derham incorporated footage of mountain vistas and other natural beauty, by Jared Kay of Amplified Media, to convey Price’s love for the outdoors. Elsewhere, fellow local filmmaker Adam “Tiny” Pinnell shot downtown Asheville at night a few weekends in a row, and Klein spent three months hand-sketching city buildings for the film’s introductory animation.
Footage of the local symphony recording its Asheville Symphony Sessions album stretch the film’s runtime to 32 minutes, six of which will eventually be cut for its likely run on PBS or a comparable outlet. Festivals that have screened Derham’s earlier films have already expressed interest, and MacLeod is determined to have the film go international. Derham agrees that Price’s story has a global market, not simply for its universal appeal but for its power to transform individuals who continue to spread his philosophies.
“Not to sound cheesy, but I am a different person from when I started this project,” Derham says. “Karen and Meg … their personalities and how generous and calm and encouraging they are, they really boosted my confidence and made me feel really strong with my own assets. You know, as a female filmmaker [who is] young compared to the average filmmaker, I kind of saw those as my weaknesses that I had to hide. Karen was like, ‘We hired you because of all those things.’”
She adds, “Now I don’t question who I am or apologize for it. That’s something Julian taught them and then they taught me.”
WHAT: Premiere of the documentary Julian Price: Envisioning Community, Investing in People, plus live music and food from local restaurants
WHERE: The Orange Peel, theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Thursday, May 26, 7:30 p.m. $25