Within the vibrant corners of the Lowcountry, where history whispers through the moss-laden branches of ancient oak trees, filmmaker Jessica Marcy and producer Tony Bell have artfully woven a narrative that transcends time and connects cultures. The cinematic tale, “A Tree Story: Gullah/Geechee Roots and Resilience,” explores the profound connections between the Gullah Geechee culture, West Africa, and the United States, all through the lens of the majestic Angel Oak tree.
The seasoned filmmaker Marcy, whose decades of experience have led her to create this needed story for our communities. Marcy was drawn to the majestic trees that stand as silent witnesses to the Gullah Geechee culture. In the lush landscapes of the Charleston area, where the Gullah Geechee community thrives, she discovered more than just a backdrop; she found a symbol of resilience, a metaphorical embodiment of a culture deeply rooted in history and tradition. Her journey to creating the film started with a spark to pursue an environmental film.
“During a trip to Tybee Island in coastal Georgia in the summer of 2020, I started to think more about the Gullah Geechee and the connections between West Africa and the United States,” said Marcy. “I have watched films like Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust,” which tells the story of a Gullah Geechee family’s decision of whether to move north and away from their rich Gullah heritage on the Sea Islands. I was eager to delve deeper and learn more about the culture and history.”
The essence of “A Tree Story” lies not only in the breathtaking visuals and cinematic prowess but also in Marcy’s conscious choice to address the pressing issues faced by the Gullah Geechee community. Coastal development, sea-level rise, and flooding, consequences of the looming threat of climate change, have led to displacement and environmental degradation. Through her camera lens, Marcy artfully captures the struggle for survival and the indomitable spirit of a people determined to preserve their roots.
This compelling film, a labor of love by Marcy and Bell, has garnered well-deserved recognition, making waves in prestigious film festivals worldwide. From the iconic Le Festival International du Film Pan Africain de Cannes in France to the enchanting WaterDocs Film Festival in Toronto and the thought-provoking Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition, “A Tree Story” has left an indelible mark on audiences across the globe.
However, Marcy’s commitment goes beyond capturing compelling visuals. In a landscape often tainted by the pitfalls of extractive storytelling, she recognized the need for an authentic narrative that respects and preserves the Gullah Geechee culture. Having witnessed the historical intrusion of outsiders into the Charleston area, she was determined to break the cycle of exploitative storytelling.
Crucial to her mission was the choice of a producer who not only possessed filmmaking
expertise but also shared a profound connection to the Charleston area. Enter a son of
Charleston, a beaming example of authenticity and warmth, Tony Bell, a gifted filmmaker whose passion for the culture and history of the Lowcountry was as deep as the roots of the ancient trees that grace the landscape.
“In approaching the story, I was very aware of the deep history of outsiders coming to the area and doing extractive storytelling,” said Marcy. “It was important for me to partner with a filmmaker from the Charleston area, and I’m grateful to have partnered with Tony Bell, a wonderful filmmaker from Charleston who is deeply committed and knowledgeable about the culture and history in the Lowcountry.”
The collaboration between Marcy and Bell proved to be a harmonious convergence of talent and commitment. Together, they embarked on a cinematic journey that documented the challenges faced by the Gullah Geechee community and celebrated their enduring spirit. Through meticulous research and a shared understanding of the local culture, the duo ensured that “A Tree Story” became a vessel for genuine storytelling rather than a hasty vehicle for exploitation.
“Like all great things, fate led me to co-produce “A Tree Story.” Jessica Marcy, the brilliant mind who conceived this project, was looking for a DP (Director of Photography),” said Bell. “We met, shot all the principal photography, and ultimately decided to work together on this project as co-producers—wearing all the hats needed to complete a film.”
In an era where filmmakers often prioritize entertainment over substance, this collaborative effort stands as a testament to the power of cinema as a tool for social change. “A Tree Story: Gullah/Geechee Roots and Resilience” is not just a film; it is a legacy, a timeless ode to a culture fighting against the tide of change.
As we immerse ourselves in the captivating narrative woven by Marcy and Bell with decades of experience, we are reminded of the transformative potential of filmmaking. Through the lens of their cameras, the trees become witnesses to history, and stories echo in the hearts of those who watch. The Angel Oak tree fosters a deeper understanding of the Gullah Geechee culture and inspires a collective commitment to preserving their roots and embracing resilience in the face of adversity.
The film not only educates but also captivates, leaving viewers with a profound appreciation for the resilience of a community that has weathered the storms of history.
In a world where cultural preservation is more crucial than ever, “A Tree Story: Gullah/Geechee Roots and Resilience” is a testament to storytelling's power and the enduring strength of communities bound by shared history. Marcy and Bell not only crafted a visually stunning and emotionally resonant film but has also opened a door to a lesser-known chapter of American history that deserves to be celebrated and remembered.
As the film continues to make waves across the national and international stages, Marcy and Bell can take pride in the fact that their work has not only entertained but also enlightened and enriched the lives of those fortunate enough to experience the magic of “A Tree Story.”