Haunting reality: 'Learning Man' highlights spirit of mill

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The film crew works on shooting a scene for the short film ‘Learning Man’ Saturday at the Rocky Mount Mills.


Staff Writer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A ghostly figure could be seen from the third-story window of the long-rundown Rocky Mount Mills this past weekend. A film crew was there to film the apparition. They weren't chasing phantoms though, they were creating Hollywood magic.

Rockset Productions was in town Saturday and Sunday to film the short movie “Learning Man,” which tells the haunting story of modern-day construction workers who encounter the ghosts of slaves who were forced to work at the textile mill before the Civil War.

The site of filming, Rocky Mount Mills — perhaps the star of the show — is a group of dilapidated buildings that have been out of commission for decades at the Tar River on Falls Road.

The site, already home to a successful microbrewery, is being refurbished to serve as apartments, shops and restaurants.

Local screenwriter Marilynn Barner Anselmi said the mill really sells the story.

“In terms of cinematography this is a great location,” Barner Anselmi said. “It's a real industrial cathedral.”

Playing the part of the main ghost, Rocky Mount actress Daphne Trevathan is making her film debut.

Trevathan, the star of numerous local plays, said she's thrilled to be creating movie magic in Rocky Mount.

“It's special to be here and film this story before the mills are renovated,” Trevathan said.

The film is directed by Evan Kidd, who has won several national awards. And the production is packed with award-winners and accomplished professionals from around the Twin Counties.

Barner Anselmi of Rocky Mount has seen her work as a playwright performed around the country. Jayson Duckett of Tarboro, who now lives in Atlanta, has several film credits. Brooke Edwards, theatre director at the Imperial Centre, is a SAG member with numerous film and television credits. Actor Chris Powell, who once lived in Nashville, is also staring in the film.

Wilmington-based actor Eric Hartley said he's happy just to be working.

Hartley used to get acting jobs much easier, but since the film industry incentives were killed by the Republican-controlled legislature and former Gov. Pat McCrory, he said it's been harder and harder to land a part.

“I'm really hoping Roy Cooper can bring it back,” Hartley said.

As far as working in Rocky Mount at the mills, Hartley said it was an exciting experience.

“It's the set of a lifetime,” Hartley said. “You can feel its spirit.”

The movie is Barner Anselmi's second short film. Her first short movie, “You Wouldn't Expect,” shot in Wilson in 2015, has been presented at film festivals across the country and was named Best Film on Matters Relating to the Black Experience or Marginalized People at the 2016 Black International Cinema Festival in Berlin.

Barner Anselmi began writing plays and screenplays when her son died in 2007. She said it's been a cathartic experience.