Movies of Local People - Siler City, NC 1937-1939 | Silent Film Excerpts
Professional "Home Movies" of local residents of Siler City, NC, photographed by Filmmaker H. Lee Waters edited to isolate the African-American community. Waters would film local residents and then invite them to come see themselves in the movie, which was projected at a local cinema.
Born on August 23, 1902 in Caroleen, North Carolina, Herbert Lee Waters spent the majority of his life in Lexington, North Carolina. As a teenager Waters worked alongside his family at the Erlanger textile mill, and developed a passion for photography, helping to run the projector at the local theatre and eventually apprenticing in the Hitchcock Studio at 118 ½ Main Street in downtown Lexington. In 1926, Waters bought the studio, and soon after married Mabel Elizabeth Gerald, who would become his partner in running all aspects of the H. Lee Waters Studio. In addition to commercial studio photography Waters also sought freelance work, and was hired to photograph the construction of High Rock Dam in 1927.
During the Depression, when many couldn’t spare hard-won wages for a portrait but did allow themselves the luxury of going to the movies, Waters supplemented the family’s income by traveling across North Carolina and parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, to film the people of the region’s communities. Between 1936 and 1942, Waters collaborated with local movie theaters to screen his films, which he called Movies of Local People and billed with the phrase "See yourself in the movies!" As a filmmaker, Waters produced 252 films across 118 communities. In addition to selling tickets to the many people who appeared in his films, he also sold advertising space in his movies to local businesses. With the birth of the Waters’ third child and the entrance of the United States into World War II, Waters returned to Lexington and continued operating his photographic studio until his death in 1997. The Library of Congress listed Waters' Kannapolis film on the National Film Registry in 2004.
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