From the first scene in F11 and Be There, the film’s main subject, artist-photographer Burk Uzzle, greets the viewer with the click and flash of his camera, a halo light floating above inside his towering studio. Moments later Burk welcomes us with a wry gaze basking in the smallest sliver of yellow light and a searing thesis: "The face is the psychological landscape. The face bears the imprint of time. The face and the eyes bare not only the character but the joy of a person's being." It is in keeping with this invitation into the life, mind, and art of the former Life and Magnum photographer that Reel South also welcomes audiences to the fifth season of the annual PBS documentary series.
In premiering this film directed by filmmaker Jethro Waters, Reel South brings forth a compelling and joyous feature film with strong North Carolina ties. We were wildly impressed by the talents on display both by the artist portrayed and the artist portraying him. Waters provides audiences with a feast visually and musically with outstanding direction in both cinematography and score.
But not for a second does this emotional and uplifting film forget its purpose –– we have been put on notice. Never before in this series has a film challenged and informed our way of thinking about non-fiction filmmaking and photography. We hearken back to the basics of our own definitions of our work, our own purpose and our own interpretations of art. Burk reminds us that the seminal moments captured in black and white were never truly removed experiences. Burk’s witnessing of history isn’t detached from his camera lens. And his lens isn't detached from his soul. It's the opposite. It's his soul we find embedded in his work and ringing to us through the lightbox.
Waters and Uzzle's traversing across the country highlights a significant moment for us as Southern artists and creatives. Now is a moment for us to turn to photographers and journalists to help further understand the world around us. Burk Uzzle has been on the front lines of documenting life in America and this film is a reminder that southern voices and southern lenses have long been at the forefront of these efforts – at the forefront of art and photography.
Reel South is honored to present this film to Americans nationwide. In a time of turmoil and rising fears of the unknown, we must remember to look back from whence we came. Truth-telling is about recognition of the circumstances around you, those out of your control, knowing all too well that sometimes the best action is to remember it all.