By Mary Erickson Associate Editor
Photos courtesy of Beth Harrington Productions
Beth Harrington’s idea for a music documentary about the legendary Carter-Cash family had been percolating for a while. She wanted to focus on the musical family that heavily influenced—and arguably started—American country music. A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter recorded their first songs in 1927, starting the legacy that included June Carter Cash, Johnny Cash, and Rosanne Cash.
A linchpin in the film would be the inclusion of Johnny Cash. As it became clear that Cash’s health was rapidly declining, Harrington realized, “If Johnny Cash was going to be in the film, I’d have to get on it.” She started shooting in 2003, and recorded Cash’s last on-camera interview. Thus began the production for The Winding Stream —The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music.
The odyssey that marked the film’s production hinted at the changing conditions of the film industry. The fundraising world for documentaries was shrinking, and it became tougher to find money to finance the film. “I spent a long period in the wilderness as nothing happened financially,” recalled Harrington. It was clear that the film’s music licensing fees would be prohibitive, but Harrington persevered, and the film finally premiered at SXSW in 2014. Since then, the film has played in dozens of festivals around the world, winning multiple awards.
Now, 18 months later, the film is getting its theatrical release. Working with Argo Pictures of New York, Harrington is ready to share the work of promoting an independent film. “I’m loving the fact that someone else is getting the film out there,” she said. The film will open on a market-by-market basis, visiting key cities across the country in event-style screenings. The first stop was Portland, Oregon, on September 17, with additional screenings in Seattle, Tacoma, Ashland, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.
Harrington has ventured into the world of ancillary merchandise to accompany and support the film. The musical legacy of the Carter-Cash family will be available as a soundtrack to be released in October 2015 by Omnivore Recordings. Harrington published an oral history of the Carter-Cash family in book form, also called The Winding Stream.
Harrington will continue to focus on The Winding Stream for the next year, attending as many of the screenings as possible. “This is my job,” she said. “We’ve received such positive responses. The critics love it. Audiences love it. I owe it to the film.”
The Winding Stream opened on September 17 at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre, followed by screenings in Seattle for the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Festival on September 28, and at Tacoma’s Grand Cinema on September 29. More information about the film is available at www.thewindingstream.com.