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Changes in the Wind

Knowing that there are no age limits to creativity and hard work, a husband and wife filmmaking team in their 60s set out to document ninety-one-year-old Vollis Simpson, whom The New York Times called “an art star” in his obituary of 2013. Ten years later, our documentary had expanded to include the larger story of his town’s inspired project to build a park in his honor.

Channeling Mr. Simpson’s grit and creativity, people in Wilson, North Carolina volunteered time and expertise, raised the money in a public-private partnership and created the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, an attraction they hoped would make their town “the poster child of creative placemaking.” Now, even with the the pandemic, the Park has visitors from around the world, and Wilson projects more the forty million dollars a year in increased economic development.

In the shop where his whirligigs were restored, a sign on the wall reads “WWVD,” a daily reminder of the spirit that united everyone’s effort: “What would Vollis do?” Now the official folk art of North Carolina, whirligigs are a symbol of hardscrabble survival and renewal.

  • Gerret Warner
    Truth Underground
  • Mimi Gredy
    Truth Underground
  • Vollis Simpson
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    26 minutes 48 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    37,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Gerret Warner

Gerret is the Creative Director of Warner & Company, focused on arts and education. He is the director of “Polly Hill and Her Arboretum” and “Truth Underground,” as well as videos for Stanford, Yale, New England Dancing Masters, The Clarke School for Hearing and Speech, Martha’s Vineyard Museum and many others.

He grew up assisting his parents, folklorists Anne and Frank Warner, as they traveled rural America recording stories and old songs, now in the Library of Congress. Those collecting trips would later prove to be a model for his directing.

An early job producing corporate videos and commercials in New York didn't satisfy. But—after several years teaching film and English and a Masters in documentary film—he was back at it again, this time pairing his father’s interview techniques with a small crew.

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Director Statement

We started out with a request by the North Carolina Arts Council to simply document Vollis Simpson, a folk artist in Wilson, NC before he passed away. He was ninety-one years old that year, and when he died in 2013 he was what the New York Times called "an art star." It seemed like just the right kind of project for me and my wife, a couple of filmmakers in their 60s. Little did we know we’d be eleven years older by the time we finished.

But the time allowed us to uncover the parallel story of a Southern town, no longer the center of the world’s tobacco market, building a park with the artist’s work in order to generate civic pride and economic growth, and it seemed a natural extension of Mr. Simpson’s story.

It wasn’t long before we saw that the people who were raising money to build the park, people who were conserving the art, moving it and restoring, it were all channeling the energy and imagination of this nonagenarian artist, a local mechanic and house mover who had recycled scrap metal and built these giant moving sculptures with his own hands. Townsfolk began to see that age was no impediment to imagination, resourcefulness and creativity, and they began to unite around this new project.

How to tell the two stories as one was the structural challenge when we started to edit, and music was the answer. I asked an old friend, noted folk musician Jeff Davis, to send me some traditional folk tunes, and once I started playing with those I began to get a feel for how the story might play out, alternating scenes of the artist and the development of the Whirligig Park, using traditional American banjo and mandolin tunes underneath to mark each section. The addition of an underscore by composer David Grimes helped to connect the linked scenes.

Vollis Simpson, working on his own right to the end at age ninety-four, created whimsical and complex sculptures, people in Wilson found inspiration in his vision and now there’s a park that draws visitors from around the world and has kicked off the regeneration of the town.

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." —Mark Twain