Tuesday 17 March 2020

Interview with Tommy Baker

Available on DVD and Digital today, FACING EAST is the story of a cemetery in Kentucky that re-uses graves – over and over and over. It’s a confronting and powerful doc. We spoke to director Tommy Baker about it.

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Tell us about the motivation to make a film based on this, well, crooked cemetery?

I just kind of fell into this documentary really organically. A friend of mine recommended me to the Friends of Eastern Cemetery group, I was just starting off as a film maker and they needed someone to come and help them shoot some footage they could use to raise awareness of what they were doing. I believe they were in their first year and the cemetery was still in really bad shape. After leaving the first day that I came down there with my camera, I knew that there was a much, much bigger story there and I had to find out more. I didn't know right off that it would be a feature length film but the more I kept going down there, talking to people, researching the cemetery, the crazier and crazier the story kept getting. Several times we thought we had a rough cut of the finished movie and then someone would contact us or some new piece of information would come to light. None of us expected the story to be as big, or as dark as it ultimately turned out to be.

How long ago did you begin plotting out the movie?

The first day I went down with my camera would have been August of 2013. Some of the footage from that summer actually made the final cut of the film. I really got serious about finishing the film sometime in 2015. It was a very long journey.

And any hurdles to overcome before it was a ‘go’?

We had so many hurdles. We tried for a quite a while to negotiate with some local news stations who had covered various aspects of the story so we could use footage from those segments but licensing fees were exorbitant and we had no budget. We raised a little money crowdfunding after that in hopes to get at least a minute or two of news footage but we couldn't raise enough. That process was over more than a year which was frustrating to have no positive results afterwards. That's just one example.

Who was the first main interviewee to agree to get involved? Did the rest sort of fall in after he/she committed?

Once I had been down to the cemetery a few times I was introduced to Andy Harpole who founded the Friends of Eastern Cemetery group I mentioned earlier. We talked a few times and he ultimately agreed to help with the project. He wasn't actually my first interview but he knew who to talk to and opened a lot of doors that I would've never found on my own. Over the course of the project I interviewed him a number of times.

Is this a place you yourself were familiar with before the movie?

I wasn't really familiar with the cemetery beforehand, although as I later found out I had lots of connections to it, friends who were at least vaguely aware of what had happened there, and even one friend who, unbeknownst to me, had made a short documentary in high school around 2004 about the subject.

I imagine your knowledge of the place greatly increased as the film kicked in?

Over the course of researching this documentary I kind of became an expert on this little 30 acre piece of land. I still go down there often. I feel a strong connection with the cemetery that I'm not sure that I can explain. It's never been scary to me though. I might've gotten creeped out a couple times briefly but I always felt strangely welcome there.

For you, what’s the goal with the film?

Most importantly I hope the film can serve the original purpose of why I came down there the first time. To get the word out about The Friends of Eastern Cemetery Non -profit group so they can get the help they so desperately need. I also hope that the story will find other people like Andy Harpole in other cities and give them a little motivation to go and help preserve and upkeep other historical and abandoned cemeteries. This isn't the only place this has happened. I urge anyone who wants to form a similar group to contact the friends of Eastern Cemetery and get more information, and inspiration on how to go about doing that.

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