A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

‘The Black Patch,’ about dark-fired tobacco,
is a way of life for Western Kentucky farmers


Special to KyForward

 

Lexington’s Michael Breeding goes straight from a successful launch of a PBS documentary, “Cassius Marcellus Clay: An Audacious American,” to another PBS premiere — about a way of life common to Western Kentucky, the production of dark-fired tobacco from start to finish. It will premiere at Murray State University on Monday, November 5.

 

Farming in the Black Patch features farms of western Kentucky and the production process of dark-fired tobacco, only common to Western Kentucky and Tennessee. Now, for the first time, the world can see this process of producing dark-fired tobacco from start to finish.

 

In the film, the story traces the arduous task of running and operating a modern tobacco farm. Along the way the audience learns the process of tobacco cultivation, specifically featuring the dark-fired process. Interspersed within the show are timeline segments that tell much about tobacco at key pivotal points beginning as far back as 6000 B. C. These historical sequences are mixed seamlessly, culminating in a dramatic treatment which brings a cultural story to life.

 

The film is narrated by the nationally acclaimed voice of NOVA, Peter Thomas. It also features a haunting and moving adaptation of My Old Kentucky Home, by western Kentucky native, Beau Haddock, originator of the Kentucky-based popular ’70s folk-rock group The Little River Band. As the sun sets in the distance, a thin column of smoke lingers above the Smith family tobacco barns. To the unfamiliar observer, it may appear the barns are on fire, but in Calloway County in far Western Kentucky, it is not an uncommon scene.

 

“We’re just curing tobacco in those barns,” says Billy Dale Smith of Murray. “The heat and smoke from the fires we’ve built will cure the tobacco, giving each leaf a finish and a distinctive aroma.”

 

Now, for the first time, the world can see this process of producing dark-fired tobacco from start to finish.

 

“We started out producing the history of dark-fired because so little is known about this subject matter,” says producer/director Michael Breeding. But for Bobbie Smith Bryant (Billy Dales’ sister), the purpose for the documentary went much deeper. For her, it was all about preserving a culture that is fading from the western Kentucky landscape. It’s a way of life that she and many thousands of western Kentucky boys and girls grew up knowing so well.

 

“As I researched our family’s history, I discovered that we have ten generations of ancestors that farmed tobacco in western Kentucky. Our family has made a living from working tobacco – it has paid for our homes, our education, our entire way of life,” Bryant said.

 

The end result is a film mixed with both visions, and Michael Breeding took the storyline a step further when he tapped Billy Dale Smith and his father Billy Smith, Sr. as primary characters in the film. “They are naturals,” Breeding said. “You would think they were made for the movies.”

 

Mark Welch, director of community relations for MSU, is one of the hosts for the premiere.

 

“The film is beautifully produced and will offer a national audience an accurate and genuine glimpse into the culture and commerce of western Kentucky – unlike the stereotyped fare on much of the so-called reality TV Shows,” said Welch. “Hosting the premiere on our campus is a natural collaboration for Murray State University and we’re certainly excited to help educate audiences about the historical and cultural relevance of small family farmers.”

 

In the film, the story traces the arduous task of running and operating a modern tobacco farm. Along the way the audience learns the process of tobacco cultivation, specifically featuring the dark-fired process. Interspersed within the show are timeline segments that tell much about tobacco at key pivotal points beginning as far back as 6000 B. C. These historical sequences are mixed seamlessly, culminating in a dramatic treatment which brings a cultural story to life.

 

“It’s sort of history lesson meets reality show,” says Breeding of the production.

 

“Farming in the Black Patch” will premiere at Murray State University’s Curris Center on Monday, November 5. (The doors will open at 6:00 p. m. and the program will begin at 6:45 with a reception to follow the movie). Seating will be limited, so free advance tickets are available by ordering them at www.farmingintheblackpatch.com.

 

This film was funded entirely by private donations including sponsorships from Hutson, Inc., McKeel Equipment Company, Murray State University and Tennessee Farmer’s Cooperative. The documentary will be released through PBS affiliates nationally and will air on KET in 2013.

 

Farming in the Black Patch trailer

 

 

From Michael Breeding Media

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