JOHNSON CITY – In 1968, a young college dropout named George A. Romero directed a low-budget horror film called “Night of the Living Dead” that shocked the world and became an icon of the counterculture. It spawned a billion-dollar zombie industry that continues to this day.
“Birth of the Living Dead,” a new documentary, shows how Romero gathered an unlikely team of Pittsburgh residents – policemen, iron workers, teachers, ad-men, housewives and a roller-rink owner – to shoot, with a revolutionary guerrilla, run-and-gun style, his seminal film. During that process, Romero and his team created an entirely new and horribly chilling monster – one that was undead and feasted upon human flesh.
The Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at East Tennessee State University will screen “Birth of the LivingDead” on Monday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium with filmmaker Rob Kuhns as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. Kuhns and the audience will engage in a discussion about the film and his work as a filmmaker. A reception will follow. The film and reception are free and open to the public.
“‘Night of the Living Dead’ was one of the first films that allowed people outside of the major studios to make a film,” says Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis. “I don’t think they knew where they were going with that film at the time, but it has certainly become a cult classic. What’s important about that film and what’s important about the documentary is it addresses the social conditions in place at the time of the making of the original film, so we get to learn a little bit about history. This film is not all fun and games, although this particular topic has humor, as well. It should be a fun evening.”
Archival footage of the horrors of Vietnam and racial violence at home combined with iconic music from the 1960s invite viewers to experience how Romero’s tumultuous film reflected this period in American history. “Birth of the Living Dead” shows us how this young filmmaker created a world-renowned horror film that also illustrated how society really works.
The documentary ends with a tribute to and interview with Bill Hinzman, who played the “graveyard zombie” – the first zombie in the film, and the first one built on Romero’s mythology, which spawned so many imitators. The film finds Hinzman at a zombie convention at the Monroeville (Pa.) Mall, not far from where “Night of the Living Dead” was shot. He’s surrounded by adoring fans, many of whom were born decades after the film was made.
“Birth of the Living Dead”has earned numerous honors at film festivals worldwide, including the Golden Strands Outstanding Documentary Feature award at Tallgrass International Film Festival 2012 in Wichita, Kan. It was also an official selection at more than eight festivals, including Woodstock Film Festival and Zombie Con 2013 in Detroit.
“It’s taken me 45 years to stop biting my fingernails after first seeing ‘Night of the Living Dead,’” says veteran journalist Bill Moyers of Moyers and Company. “Having just watched Rob Kuhns’ mesmerizing documentary about that classic horror story, I finally understand why I was not only scared out of my wits, but was simultaneously watching a cinematic breakthrough and cultural phenomenon. “Birth of the Living Dead” is immensely watchable and abundantly enlightening — with one ‘ah-ha’ moment after another — and when you’ve seen it, you’ll be thinking and talking all night. (First lock your doors).”
“Birth of the Living Dead” is Rob Kuhns’ first feature-length documentary as a director. He co-directed and edited two broadcast documentaries, “Enemies of War” (PBS, 2001) and “This is a Game, Ladies” (PBS, 2003). His many editing credits include Moyers and Company, the dramatic television series “Sleeper Cell” and “Adam Clayton Powell.” Kuhns wrote and directed the short comedy, “King’s Day Out” (1993 Sundance Film Festival) and, in 2012, he received an individual artist grant from the New York State Council of the Arts.
For more information on the film, visit http://birthofthelivingdead.com.
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
South Arts, a nonprofit regional arts organization, was founded in 1975 to build on the South's unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to address the role of the arts in impacting the issues important to our region and to link the South with the nation and the world through the arts. For more information, visit www.southarts.org.
For information about the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call (423) 439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. “Like” ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at TheArtsAtETSU.