The Song of the Broad Axe

The poetic documentary film, The Song of the Broad Axe, uses an iconic object to explore the lives of people who have chosen to live a more purposeful life - one that involves using an axe on a daily basis. The film consists of a series of vignettes structured around the theme of building a life for yourself, through the lines of Walt Whitman’s 1856 poem, 'Song of the Broad Axe.' Each vignette explores how people use this tool to create purpose in their life, despite the availability of faster, more efficient ways of doing things. This film gives a glimpse into the lives of competitive axe throwers, woodsmen team coaches, axe historians, axe makers, and home builders. Ultimately The Song of the Broad Axe is a film about finding your place in the world and the tools that you use to do it.

  • Erin Murphy
    Something Different
  • Nina Schmir
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Green, nature, outdoors, poetic
  • Runtime:
    30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    May 5, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    4,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Maine International Film Festival
    United States
    July 9, 2016
    Maine Premiere
  • Newburyport Film Festival
    United States
    September 17, 2016
Director Biography - Erin Murphy, Nina Schmir

Erin Murphy (Director/Editor) is a documentary filmmaker, freelance videographer, and educator based in Portland, Maine. Her recent documentary work tells stories about the past through the lens of the present.

Her short film, Something Different, explores the life and the work of a grist mill owner, Curt Falk, in central Pennsylvania. This fully operational, water-powered mill is a living time capsule. The newest piece of machinery was purchased in 1950; many pieces have been operational since the turn of the century. Curt’s dedication to keep the mill running despite the difficulty is inspiring. Something Different offers a glimpse into a world that many people will never see in their lifetimes – a working gristmill running on water power. The film screened at the Maine International Film Festival, the Rochester International Film Festival, and the Big Muddy Film Festival, among others.

Erin has also produced several short documentaries through her work with Open Field Collective, a collaborative documentary production company based in New York City. Their web-based series, How We Learned, focuses on understanding how musicians, artists, and farmers learned to do what they are passionate about.

As a freelance videographer and editor Erin has worked professionally with Teachers College - Columbia University, Bucknell University, Brandeis University, Colby College, and the University of Texas in Austin. She is hired for her documentary storytelling capabilities in order to produce compelling web-based content about arts programs, school initiatives, and faculty stories.

Erin is also a visiting instructor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She teaches courses on documentary production, digital storytelling, and narrative filmmaking in the Cinema Studies Department. Her most recent documentary course focused on telling stories about what it means to grow and produce food in Maine.

You can see her work at

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Director Statement

As a documentary filmmaker I am drawn to stories that help me better understand the place I live in. I became interested in the axe as I was researching stories about land management issues in Maine. Most of the land in Maine is managed by private or non-profit trusts that allow the public to use the land. This relationship to the land is unique to this state in particular. As I was trying to find an interesting angle, I kept coming across people who had deep connections with axes — I knew there had to be something there.

While I was teaching at Colby College in January of 2013, I spent an afternoon with the Colby Woodsmen, a co-ed competitive logging team. I photographed them throwing axes, chopping logs, climbing trees, and starting fires. The way they used the axe was fascinating — they showed so much skill. Their coach, Dave Smith, was a wealth of information about axes — he has a collection of over 500 axes and tools. From this moment I knew we should focus on the axe.

Nina Schmir, the film’s producer, and I continued to meet people who had unique connections to the axe — a traditional blacksmith in Portland who forged us an axe; a home builder who uses an axe to build the majority of his houses; an amateur axe historian who has re-discovered the deep ties that Oakland has to axe manufacturing; to an ex-CEO of the largest ma manufacturing company in Maine; and to two members of the Axe Women Loggers of Maine, a touring lumberjack show.

Exploring these stories with my camera has showed me a side of Maine that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Understanding why people feel a deep connection to the axe and how using that tool helps them shape and define their lives has not only allowed me to work on an interesting project, but it has allowed me to think about my own life, and what I value in it.