Dr. Jerod Ra'Del Hollyfield, a Farragut High School Class of 2002 alumnus, has created a web series, “The Assisted Stories Project,” with which he documents and profiles lives of senior citizens in the South.
The project is a documentary aimed at sharing and preserving senior citizens’ stories, he said. The web series was created in partnership with Western Kentucky University, where Hollyfield is an English literature and film professor.
The series premiered Memorial Day this year with a new episode being debuted each week on Western Kentucky University English Department’s website. The last episode is scheduled to debut Friday, Aug. 26. However, the series will continue online.
“The great thing about Jerod’s project is how he created a hands-on project for the students to practice their filmmaking skills,” Dr. Rob Hale, WKU English Department head, said. Hale, brother of Farragut Town attorney Tom Hale, shepherded the project.
“Another great piece was it was a great opportunity for other people to learn about older citizens, what their lives were like and how their lives developed,” he said.
Hollyfield, son of Cindy Hollyfield, who serves on Farragut Visual Resources Review Board, said his inspiration for the series came from a neighbor.
“When I first moved to Bowling Green, Ky., to teach at Western Kentucky University, I lived in an apartment complex that was next door to an assisted living facility, and I had to pass it on my way to work,” Hollyfield said. “There was a man who would sit and wave to people.
“My mom saw the man and said, ‘There is your next film.’ His story just got released and is up [on the website] right now,” Hollyfield said.
The first season of the series featured residents of three senior communities in Bowling Green. He said he hopes to shoot a future season in East Tennessee.
He received funding through a grant from WKU’s Research and Creative Activities Program and worked with Dr. Jason Crandall, aWKU assistant professor of exercise science, to establish partnerships with Village Manor, Chandler Park Assisted Living and Bowling Green Towers in 2014.
“My primary goal for this project has always been to challenge perceptions of Southerners,” Hollyfield said. “There’s still a tendency to stereotype the South despite its vital cultural and economic contributions to the nation. I wanted to showcase those who made the region what it is today and focus on their individual experiences.”
Most of the people he interviewed had graduated from college and two of them had doctorates, he said.
Some of the residents were teachers and one wife of a resident did patterns for Vogue magazine.
“That was more in line with the South I know,” Hollyfield said.
He spent nearly nine months hearing residents’ stories and researching their lives.
“I showed all the residents and their friends footage of the 12 completed films in private screenings at the three [assisted living facilities],” he said.
Hollyfield said filming a documentary was new for him since he usually created fiction films.
“You don’t always know what you are going to get with a documentary because there is no script,” he said. “You are trying to find the story by shooting rather than writing a script before shooting.”