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Southwest Florida among regions featured in film series

By Staff | Jul 24, 2019

Southwest Floridians are featured prominently in an upcoming national three-part series, “Family Pictures USA,” created and hosted by filmmaker and photographer Thomas Allen Harris.

Airing Aug. 12-13 on co-presenting stations WGCU HD in Southwest Florida and UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina, the series explores American cities, towns and rural communities through the lens of the family photo album, unearthing rich personal stories that expand understanding of shared history, diversity and common values. Family photos of everyday milestones – marriage, childhood, a new car, growing business – provide a visual portal through which to examine the roots, surprising connections and provocative parallels that shed light on the collective past and the shared future.

“For the past 150 years, families have used the photo album to pass on their stories from one generation to the next,” Harris said. “The family album has kept us together. But in today’s digital age, we have to work harder to keep and maintain the stories of our families and our communities. Everyone is a photographer, but the stories and communities behind our photos are being lost. ‘Family Pictures USA’ strives to keep these stories alive and – by sharing them – remind us of our common roots and strengthen connections with our friends, families and neighbors.”

In the Southwest Florida episode, airing Aug. 13 at 9 p.m., the national crew meets Native Americans, cattle ranchers, members of fishing communities and restaurateurs who recount their family stories with pride. In Immokalee, viewers learn that Florida is still cattle country and meet former migrant workers who now own the companies that harvest produce. Descendants of Seminole leader Osceola preserve their tribal way of life and pass down centuries-old traditions to their children. An African American family confronts the divisions of the past and moves forward as they uncover the story of their pioneering bi-racial ancestor and meet their white relatives.

More than one surprise twist occurred in the filming. For one, a couple who successfully saved Estero Bay and formed the state’s first aquatic preserve met the woman whose father tried to develop it.

Another twist occurs in an additional 30-minute show filmed at WGCU studios titled “Family Pictures USA: Southwest Florida Local Focus” and airing only locally on Aug. 13 at 10 p.m.

In the show, three Southwest Floridians from very different walks of life discover that they are related when they all recognize the same common person in a photograph from decades ago. Family photos did indeed provide that visual portal that revealed surprising connections in the region’s collective past.

Detroit and North Carolina are the other regions featured along with Southwest Florida. In the first national episode, “Detroit,” on Aug. 12 at 9 p.m., the enormous influence of the auto industry, the rise of labor unions, cultural touchstones like the Motown sound, the devastating impacts of the 1967 riots and the city’s renaissance today are all explored via family narratives and memories. With an economy traditionally founded on tobacco and textiles, “North Carolina” is shown through family photos and their owners to be a historically rural state that is changing rapidly in the episode on Aug. 13 at 8 p.m.

Each of the episodes begins with a community photo-sharing event, at which the film crew sees and archives the photos and interviews the contributors. In Southwest Florida, WGCU hosted photo-sharing events last fall at the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County in Immokalee and the Harlem Heights Community Center.

Viewers all over the country are invited to share their own images and stories using #familypicturesusa, which will be aggregated across social media and posted to the Digital American Family Album.

For more information, visit wgcu.org/familypictures.

The Southwest Florida episodes will re-air on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. on the WGCU WORLD Channel.