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Professor and Filmmaker Joe Murphy to be Honored March 28-29 With Documentary Screenings

by Nikka Hronis

March 26, 2014.  Appalachian State University professor Joe Murphy will be honored on Friday March 28 and Saturday March 29 with screenings of his work during his 39 year career at Appalachian State. This great stretch of teaching will come to a close with his retirement at the conclusion of this semester. Murphy came to Appalachian in 1975 to teach audio and video production and documentary film, and shortly thereafter began making his own documentary films.


“The first documentaries I shot were little things around here about the windmill and Jim Bird who was a tobacco farmer and janitor on campus,” Murphy said.

Segments of Murphy’s films have been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” ABC’s “World News Tonight,” the Learning Channel and public television stations across the country. While Murphy’s documentaries cover a wide variety of topics, they often focus on aspects of Southern life and culture. 

“I think every area of the country or the world could transfer into film well if it were done properly. But I’m a southerner, you have to deal with what you know.”

Murphy attributes his love for documentaries to his interest in human life and behavior. 

“People are so interesting. Human behavior is really fascinating, and real people are so much more interesting than characters you can create. Most people think that documentaries are easy to create. They’re not. You have to find people and get them to open up and really trust you.” 

According to Murphy, this communication aspect of documentary making is more of a challenge for students now than in the past. 

“Ask questions,” Murphy said. “That’s where you start. But students have a lot more trouble asking questions of real, live human beings than they did 20 years ago because of all of the electronic and digital communications that’s out there now. It’s a lot harder for them to walk up to a stranger and ask a question or start a conversation.” 

Murphy’s advice to aspiring filmmakers is,”Get out there and make them! It’s pretty easy to get people to cooperate with you. People are interested, fascinated and cooperative, and they appreciate that you care about what they do and that you care about them.”

Murphy plans to keep shooting documentaries after his retirement from teaching this May and enthusiastically declared, “I plan to keep on living!”

Named in his honor, The Joe Murphy Educational Media Endowed Fellowship will support undergraduate students working towards the Second Academic Concentration (SAC) in Media Studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction or the minor in media studies, as well as graduate students in the Master of Arts program in educational media.

Be sure to come out and celebrate Murphy’s career both teaching and filmmaking next weekend. The March 28 7 p.m. screening will feature shorts, clips and a showing of Murphy’s 1985 film “Doc and Merle” about the late Doc and Merle Watson.  Afternoon screenings at 2:30 p.m. March 29 will feature Murphy’s films “Auto Bond” and “Shoes Required,” as well as some student work.  The celebration concludes at 7:30 p.m. with additional short selections from Murphy’s work as well as a screening of his film about barbecue in the Southeast, “Slow Food: Fast Times.” 

To check out some more of Murphy’s documentaries like “I’m Type 1: Living with Diabetes,” a film exploring life with diabetes, click here. Or “100 Miles For Swisher,” a film following one organization’s 100 mile run to raise awareness of plight of the families of servicemen and women killed in action, click here.

All screenings will be held in room 124 of the College of Education building on campus. Admission is free.

Click here to watch an excerpt from Murphy’s 1985 film “Doc and Merle”.