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Ramsey Center Documentary About Roger Howell Earns Gold Award

Jun. 29, 2016

“A Mighty Fine Memory: Stories and Tunes from the Fiddler of Banjo Branch,” produced and directed by Mars Hill University’s Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies, has been selected as one of the best independent documentaries of 2016, as determined by Spotlight Documentary Film Awards.

Completed in 2015, “A Mighty Fine Memory” was funded in part by a cultural preservation grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership to the Ramsey Center in 2014.  The documentary was directed and produced by Hannah Furgiuele, Ramsey Center program coordinator and director of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival. It was filmed and edited by Rebecca Branson Jones and engaged many people from the community locally and regionally.

The film tells the story of Madison County master fiddler Roger Howell’s childhood and youth on Banjo Branch Road in Mars Hill, North Carolina, as well as his introduction and life-long commitment to old-time music. It combines scenes from Howell’s life with personal interviews and clips from performances with some of the region’s finest musicians.

Howell is known throughout the region for his skill as a musician, his generosity as a teacher, and his prodigious memory, as demonstrated by his contribution of 532 fiddle tunes comprising the “Roger Howell Memory Collection” to Mars Hill University’s Southern Appalachian Archives.  Howell’s performances and lessons are full of stories about the people who taught him this music—the “old people” of his youth.  The many ways Roger Howell has immersed himself in the music of this region since his childhood make his story one worthy of sharing with the wider world.

Furguiele said: “Directing this project, ‘A Mighty Fine Memory,’ was an incredible experience.  Having the opportunity to engage with Roger and the musical community that supported the project was a privilege that I don’t take lightly. I have grown to know Roger Howell not only as an exceptional musician and teacher, but as a friend and mentor. His contributions to the performance and the preservation of regional music are enormous, and I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to work with both him and Rebecca Jones on this project. I am equally grateful to those at Spotlight Films who felt it was worthy of such an amazing award.  While completely unexpected, we are thrilled to know that the film has been well-received.”

Spotlight Documentary Film Awards is dedicated to promoting experienced and new documentary filmmakers through a unique and important international film competition.  Spotlight chooses documentaries, shorts, and features from around the world each year to receive an award in one of four categories: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

Mars Hill University is a premier private, liberal arts institution offering over 30 baccalaureate degrees and one graduate degree in elementary education. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina. Visit

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