2008 film, “Pickin’ & Trimmin’,” reveals a remarkable bluegrass hideaway in Drexel, NC

In 2007, Florida-based filmmaker Matt Morris, then a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, made a trek to Drexel, N.C. to meet the men who inhabit The Barbershop, a decades-old shop that hosts bluegrass jams every Saturday, and to document this unique and colorful local tradition.

Upon its release in 2008, “Pickin’ & Trimmin’” was a film festival sensation, picking up top honors at that year’s Florida Film Festival and Woodstock Film Festival, as well as an Emmy Nomination.

What Morris’ touching and entertaining 20-minute documentary portrays is a community gathering, a collection of characters drawn together by music and the camaraderie it provides, a slice of small-town Southern culture — and, of course, some brilliant bluegrass.

Pickin’ & Trimmin’ from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

Shuffle‘s Bryan C. Reed caught up with Morris to talk about “Pickin’ & Trimmin’” and where The Barbershop finds itself today, as well as some of the projects Morris has in the works. You can follow his work at www.MattMorrisFilms.com or on Twitter, @MattMorrisFilms.

Shuffle: How did you find out about The Barbershop in Drexel? What compelled you to make the documentary about it?

Matt Morris: I was living in Wilmington, N.C., and read an article about The Barbershop in Drexel by Matt Born. I had just finished college and was planning on making a narrative short film, but The Barbershop really fascinated me. I’d never made a documentary before but it seemed like a great subject- a time capsule of the South my parents grew up in. I visited the shop and it was incredible. I had such a great time and everyone was friendly and welcoming. I knew I had to make the film.

Shuffle: Your other films seem to have a very distinct idea of both place and character. What do you look for when you’re developing ideas for a film? 

MM: My ultimate goal is to direct narrative features, and one thing my favorite directors have in common is an interest in unique characters and creating a concrete sense of place. It’s been a joy getting to know all these fascinating people, so my hope is to recreate that experience for an audience- introduce them to a person and let that person speak for themselves. I’ve been lucky that all of these great characters are to be found in visually interesting places.

Shuffle: Between The Barbershop’s pickers, Johnny Barnes from “Mr. Happy Man,” and Vern Switzer, the titular “Watermelon Man,” I’m dying to know how you find the people you profile?

MM: I like to joke that at this point, I don’t find the subjects of the films, they find me. Vern Switzer was the only one I went looking for- one of my favorite film festivals, Mountainfilm Telluride, had a food theme in 2009 and so I wanted to make a film that was food related. Vern is a passionate farmer who has also become a children’s book author in hopes of educating kids about what they eat. He can be found every weekend at Greensboro’s Curb Farmers Market in North Carolina.
I discovered Johnny Barnes browsing photos on Flickr. I was looking for a new camera and just stumbled upon a photo of Johnny that someone took on their vacation in Bermuda. They had a short description of the photo, describing how Johnny stands at the busiest intersection on the island for six hours every day, waving and blowing kisses to passersby. I did some research and couldn’t believe no one had done a film on him. That film has been making the festival rounds this year and I plan on putting it on Vimeo next month.

Shuffle: Last year, you posted a follow-up video to help save The Barbershop after its owner, Lawrence Anthony, passed away, and the shop suffered some water damage. What’s the state of The Barbershop today? Is it too late for people to help save it?

MM: Carroll Anthony, Lawrence’s son, has done a great job fixing up the shop. So far, the floor in the back room has been repaired and I believe they’ve done some ceiling work. The goal is to fix up the place while also retaining the same old look and feel. Through the success of the film online, there’s been an increase in donations, but more are always welcome. At this point, keeping The Barbershop open is a labor of love, not a business decision.

Shuffle: What’s next on your project list? And when can we expect to see it in full?

MM: I’m currently working on a short documentary about a lounge singing duo based out of Winter Park, Florida. Their names are Mark & Lorna, and they’ve been performing at a Best Western Inn six nights a week for the last twenty years. I heard about them through Chris Blanc, who was working with the Florida Film Festival at the time. He thought they were the type of people I’d want to make a film about and he was right! That should be finished for next year’s festival circuit, and I’ll be sure to put the film online after that.
It’s been great having “Pickin’ & Trimmin’” reach a wider audience online. For so long, it’s been restricted to the festival circuit, so it’s nice having it reach music fans and others who appreciate the lifestyle the boys at The Barbershop have cultivated. I’m excited about sharing Johnny Barnes and his mission to spread love and happiness. He’s a person that everyone can learn a lot from.

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