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Asheville filmmaker works on Trail of Tears project



8/21/2012 - Asheville filmmaker works on Trail of Tears project
by Sarah Larson - Asheville Citizen Times

 Alex Murphy -- writer, cinematographer, actor and editor -- is the ultimate storyteller. Aided by a love of language and words, he masterfully records, interprets and delivers stories with emotional intensity.

 His tales often convey a dark side. He defends this by saying his work is not always dark but that darkness is certainly common for most writers and cinematographers in their earliest works. Often it is the person holding the book, watching the film or entering the narrative unfolding on the stage who appreciates the veil being lifted on the darkness. 

 Murphy's latest project is to lift the veil on the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee Nation. As cinematographer for the project, he traveled with a group that revisited major stops along the trail in a ceremony of forgiveness. It was Alex's aim to capture the ceremonies on video.

Alex's full name is Alex G.S.P. Murphy. No one knows what the initials stand for, but friends have noted that some really good writers seem to have initials in their names: J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin, for example.

Martin, one of Alex's favorite writers, writes realistic fantasy fiction in which no characters are safe. Martin has written five books of great length in his "Song of Ice and Fire" series, which HBO is adapting for its "Game of Thrones" TV series.

Alex owned a retail store in Asheville for 5 1/2 years that sold sci-fi and fantasy gaming and comics merchandise. He also attends the Dragon-Con event over Labor Day in Atlanta, where he and his wife Charlotte join 5,000 other often-costumed fans. This year they are looking forward to checking out a workshop on puppetry for film.

Alex met Charlotte in 1995 in Charleston, S.C., when he was in the Air Force. "Other women were nice enough but no one met my unusual interests in quite the same way that Charlotte does," he says. The couple has lived in Asheville since 1999.

Besides fantasy and science fiction, the couple share a love of outdoor camping trips in tents with friends.

"There is nothing like cooking bacon over a hardwood fire," says Alex, who is a line chef at Boca on Lexington Avenue in Asheville. "The smell of coffee and bacon bring people out of their camp sites and they all start migrating over toward our fire."

In addition to the Cherokee project, he's working on a fantasy project titled "Voltara, the Demon Slayer" -- in the tradition of Conan the Barbarian but in an ultra-campy style.

But his work on the Trail of Tears project he views much more seriously, as an act of forgiveness. (The videos he's editing will be posted on the website for the Coalition of Wellness and Healing of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.)

The project has tremendous resonance for Murphy. One of his great-grandmothers on his father's side of the family was Cherokee from Missouri and walked the Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears project began in April and lasted about three weeks, as the group covered the trail from Oklahoma and worked backward to North Carolina, taking the northern route through Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee before reaching Cherokee.

Don Coyes, a Mohican from Colorado Springs, was the main speaker on the trip. As a healer and grief counselor, Don covered the four steps of healing, presenting one step at each site the crew visited on the Trail of Tears.

"There have been so many (Cherokee) families for generations who have held on to this hatred (of the whites responsible for the Trail of Tears) that it has poisoned them," Alex says, "and there is no way to get rid of that poison other than by forgiveness.

"Alcohol abuse and suicide have been the byproduct of this hatred. ... They were taught to live with self-loathing and to be ashamed of who they are."

He continued, "Forgiveness was the theme we rode on, but when we came to the little Missouri town I grew up in, I realized I was still hanging on to my hatred of the small-minded people who populate that town and caused me to leave it. I had my own issues to deal with, and I could not let go of the hatred. How much harder it must be for the Cherokee to come to a resolution of their feelings?"

Special gourds were grown and harvested for this ceremonial trip of healing. Soil w as lifted from the trail and put into the gourds. The soil represented the remains of those who died along the trek, so that they could be brought home. The gourds were returned to the river in Cherokee.

The ceremonial trip began in Oklahoma with the Catawba Tribe and ended in Cherokee at the Kituwah Mound, the holy sacred land of their beginning. Greg White, representing the white population, spoke eloquently and with emotional power, commemorating the thousands who starved while white men watched.

"He uttered what I wish I could have," Alex says. "It was heart-wrenching."

The Cherokee story is representative of what happened to all tribes at the hands of the armed white men, thus giving this project's message universal importance.

"We now have 35 hours of footage on DVD which will be organized into three segments covering the beginning and end at greater length and the trip between in shorter segments," Alex says.

Scenes were captured with two or three cameras recording simultaneously.

Alex is hopeful that the Cherokee project will help build self-esteem within the Cherokee community and find expression in a return to the preservation of their native language, making the Cherokee a bilingual people.

One of the most moving moments of the project for Alex was when the tribe sang gospel songs and especially "Amazing Grace" in their native language: "I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." Such is the power of forgiveness.

The Cherokee are learning that through forgiveness, healing is possible. Alex Murphy, part Cherokee storyteller, is helping to tell their story.


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