>> Sunday, February 1, 2009
USA/C-62m./Dir: Kelly L. Riley/Cast: Jim Tom Hendrick (Himself), Jerry Jumper (Himself), William “Birdman” Bird (Himself), Pat Williams (Herself), Gilford Williams (Himself), Corey Stephens (Himself)
Documentary filmmaker Kelly L. Riley takes us back to Graham County, North Carolina in Still Making Moonshine to reconnect with homemade hooch producer Jim Tom Hendrick, the subject of his previous documentary, Moonshine (2000). Jim Tom proves to be just as colorful in this feature-length follow-up. While he is very much the same unpretentious character we remember from the first film, the good-humored distiller has modernized his methods a bit. Rather than cooking his whiskey outdoors over an open fire, he now heats his brew inside a trailer over a propane flame. Still, despite the technological advancements, Jim Tom manages to set his pants on fire.
As in the first film, Jim Tom walks us through the process of brewing illegal corn whiskey and the precautions required to keep the enterprise under wraps. However, this expanded sequel goes even further by allowing us to witness Jim Tom fashioning a handmade still out of sheets of copper--an art that has been lost by others in the area, as drug production has supplanted the moonshine trade.
Kelly Riley also gives us a good look at Jim Tom’s surrounding community--from the pious, church-centric residents of the dry county (including Jim Tom’s sister, Pat Williams) to a few other oddballs that share Jim Tom’s rogue spirit. From the latter group, the film dedicates the most time to Jim Tom’s friend and fellow bootlegger, Jerry Jumper, a Cherokee Indian who believes that the hills are inhabited by little people. Jerry takes the time to age his home brew in small oak barrels; and while Jim Tom admits to occasionally partaking of Jerry’s product, Hendrick explains that he doesn’t age his own stuff, because “it don’t last long enough.”
With Still Making Moonshine, Riley once again proves himself to be a talented filmmaker with an excellent eye for composition and a gift for effective editing. Like better-known documentarian Errol Morris, Riley also has a knack for finding interesting eccentrics on which to point his camera, and the new subjects that are introduced in Still Making Moonshine are nearly as absorbing as Jim Tom is himself. Most importantly, Riley is an excellent storyteller. The viewer comes away from the film feeling that they have gotten a taste for traditions that that are quickly fading into the past--not just the brewing of white lightning, but also the language and culture of the Cherokee, and the fading countryside itself. Although this documentary is nearly three times as long as Riley’s previous work, it still leaves one thirsty for more.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey (homemade and store-bought) and beer
Intoxicating Effects--Harmonizing, memory blackouts (discussed), and drinking and driving
Potent Quotables--JIM TOM: I don’t make rotgut. I make Tennessee sippin’ whiskey.
Video Availability--Still Making Moonshine DVD (CreateSpace). You can also take a small taste below.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Check out the director’s earlier short, Moonshine (2000). The two films combined give you the full, 140 proof kick.