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Documenting ‘A Hell of a Life’: NC State video producer’s documentary delivers raw look at moonshiner Popcorn Sutton

Posted on August 31, 2015 12:36 pm by Nash Dunn

The late moonshiner Popcorn Sutton squats down in one of his stills. Photo courtesy of Neal Hutcheson.

When video of a moonshiner named Popcorn surfaced in the mid-2000s, it didn’t take long for it to circulate.

Neal Hutcheson’s rough edit of Popcorn Sutton making his “Last Dam Run of Likker” was intended to be for local sales from Sutton’s junk shop in Maggie Valley. However, when the VHS tape hit the streets, its popularity quickly spread beyond the North Carolina mountains.

Hutcheson, a video producer at NC State, was at a coffee shop on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh — less than a month after the tape came out — when someone asked him about the video.

“It’s really Popcorn’s allure that made that happen,” Hutcheson said.

That video, derived from the same source footage Hutcheson used for his Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Last One” in 2008, only told part of Sutton’s story. In his most recent film project, Hutcheson has created a broader picture. “Popcorn Sutton — A Hell of a Life” explores Sutton’s moonshine enterprise, rise to notoriety and fall into the legal and health troubles that led to his defiant suicide.

Hutcheson will screen the documentary at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at NC State’s  D.H. Hill Library (West Wing Auditorium).  The Triangle-area premiere is free and open to the public.

At a separate event that day, Hutcheson will present and discuss clips from several of his other documentaries in the West Wing Auditorium. The NCSU Libraries event is aimed at further exploring themes in the university’s Common Reading selection, “Stand Up That Mountain,” by Jay Erskine Leutze. The 3 p.m. event is also free and open to the public.

Popcorn Sutton. Photo courtesy of Neal Hutcheson.

Popcorn Sutton. Photo courtesy of Neal Hutcheson.

Hutcheson first introduced viewers to Sutton in “Mountain Talk,” a film he produced in 2002 with renowned NC State linguist Walt Wolfram and the university’s North Carolina Language and Life Project.

Through the film, one in a series of documentaries he’s produced through the NCLLP, Hutcheson and Sutton got to know each other fairly well. They continued visiting one another after production, forming a friendship.

“He seemed to enjoy my visits as much as I enjoyed visiting with him,” Hutcheson said.

As their relationship matured, Hutcheson kept filming with Sutton, who allowed him a rare look at his process of making moonshine.

‘The Last One’

Part of their deal was that Hutcheson would make a VHS tape that Sutton could sell out of his junk shop. The tape, with Sutton’s suggested title, “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make,” became a cult classic.

“It kind of blew up and traveled very quickly,” Hutcheson said. “It garnered him a lot of attention.”

Hutcheson used the same source footage he shot with Sutton to create “The Last One,” a 57-minute PBS special, in 2008. Produced through Sucker Punch Pictures, an independent production company Hutcheson founded, the film won “Best Cultural Documentary” at the 2009 Southeast Emmy Awards.

The films began lifting Sutton up as a folk hero, a status only furthered by his appearances on TV shows and other broadcasts. Hutcheson continued filming with him, and coupled with other footage he collected from 2000-2009, created what he believes is a more authentic view of Sutton through “A Hell of a Life.”

Hutcheson said while “The Last One” is about making moonshine, “A Hell of Life” delivers a more raw, privileged view of Sutton’s life and the spaces he inhabited, delving deeper into the entirety of his moonshine operation, his popularity, his run-in with the law and his death in 2009.

Neal Hutcheson.

Neal Hutcheson.

Behind the Camera

After earning a degree in communication from NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1992, Hutcheson got his start in video production with the university. Through a humanities extension program, communication professor Jim Alchediak hired him to help produce educational videos throughout the U.S. and overseas.

“As a fresh graduate, I was writing scripts for educational programs and was doing some producing,” Hutcheson said.

He’s been working with the N.C. State linguistics program since the mid-1990s, where he’s helped produce documentaries about life on the Carolina coast, the Lumbee dialect, and Appalachia stories, songs and back-porch music.

Hutcheson said he looks at all of his films as one body of work that overlap with the goal of preserving and sharing culture. He and fellow NC State video producer Danica Cullinan will try to do the same with the Language and Life Project’s next documentary, “Talking Black in America,” a focus on African-American heritage and history through speech.

By Nash Dunn

Nuance or Conflict? How News Stories Can Influence Perceptions of Emerging Technologies

Posted on August 31, 2015 8:40 am by Nash Dunn

Photo credit: Kevin Case. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: Kevin Case. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Researchers from NC State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found more evidence that how media report on emerging technologies – such as nanotechnology or genetically modified crops – influences public opinion on those subjects.

Specifically, when news stories highlight conflict in the scientific community on an emerging technology, people who accept the authority of scientists on scientific subjects are more likely to view the emerging technology as risky.

“Scientists – even scientists who disagree – often incorporate caveats and nuance into their comments on emerging technologies,” says Andrew R. Binder, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “For example, a scientist may voice an opinion but note a lack of data on the subject. But that nuance is often lost in news stories.

“We wanted to know stories that present scientists as being in clear conflict, leaving out the nuance, affected the public’s perception of uncertainty on an issue – particularly compared to stories that incorporate the nuances of each scientist’s position,” Binder says.

For their experiment, the researchers had 250 college students answer a questionnaire on their deference to scientific authority and their perceptions of nanotechnology. Participants were split into four groups. Before asking about nanotechnology, one group was asked to read a news story about nanotech that quoted scientists and presented them as being in conflict; one group read a news story with quotes that showed disagreement between scientists but included nuance on each scientist’s position; one group read a story without quotes; and one group – the control group – was given no reading.

In most instances, the reading assignments did not have a significant impact on study participants’ perception of risks associated with nanotechnology. However, those participants who were both “highly deferent” to scientific authority and given the “conflict” news item perceived nanotechnology as being significantly more risky as compared to those highly deferent study participants who read the “nuance” article.

“One thing that’s interesting here is that participants who were highly deferential to scientific authority but were in the control group or read the news item without quotes – they landed about halfway between the ‘conflict’ group and the ‘nuance’ group,” Binder says. “So it would seem that the way reporters frame scientific opinion can sway an audience one way or the other.”

The researchers also found that, while an appearance of conflict can increase one’s perception of risk, it did not increase participants’ sense of certainty in their position.

As a practical matter, the findings raise questions for journalists – since scientists have limited control over how they’re portrayed in the news. Previous surveys have found that many people are deferent to scientific authority – they trust scientists – so a reporter’s decision to cut nuance or highlight conflict could make a very real impact on how the public perceives emerging technologies.

“Reporters can’t include every single detail, and scientists want to include everything,” Binder says. “So I don’t think there’s a definitive solution out there that will make everyone happy. But hopefully this will encourage both parties to meet in the middle.”

The paper, “Conflict or Caveats? Effects of Media Portrayals of Scientific Uncertainty on Audience Perceptions of New Technologies,” is published online in the journal Risk Analysis. The paper was coauthored by Dominique Brossard and Elliott Hillback of UW-Madison.

By Matt Shipman

Note: This story was originally published by NC State News. 

Academic Support Center open for students in Caldwell Lounge

Posted on August 26, 2015 4:26 pm by Nash Dunn


The 2015 Humanities and Social Sciences Academic Support Center advisers are, from left, Emily Morris, Charlena Wynn, Sean Minty and Teshanee Williams.

“What classes do I need for my major?”

“What is the General Education Program?"

“How do I transfer into Humanities and Social Sciences?”

Students can get answers to those and other questions in the Caldwell Lounge.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Academic Support Center, located in Caldwell Hall's popular common area, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays.

Appointments aren’t necessary, so students can step right up. Graduate students will be available at three booths in the lounge to advise students about university policies, academic records, degree requirements and university resources.

For example, students can drop by if they need help with registering for classes, intracampus transfers or the General Education Program.

Graduate student and Humanities and Social Science Academic Support Center adviser Teshanee Williams, right, talks with a student in the Caldwell Lounge.

The advisers are available not only to Humanities and Social Sciences students, but all NC State students, particularly those considering transferring to the college, adding a Humanities and Social Sciences major or minor or needing help locating campus resources.

While the support center is an extra resource for students, it is not a substitute for traditional advising through a student's major department. That means students must still visit their academic adviser for course registration approval.

In addition, the student’s major department remains the most comprehensive source of information for degree requirements, careers, internships and discipline-specific graduate studies.

The four graduate student advisers for this academic year, who also serve as teaching assistants for "HSS 120: Intro to Humanities and Social Sciences," are:

StudentSeanMintySean Minty

Sean Minty is a second-year graduate student in the English department pursuing concentrations in Composition/Rhetoric and Linguistics. He is interested in African-American literature, ideological rhetorical theory and sociolinguistics. He earned an associate degree from Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida, before getting his bachelor's degree in English from North Carolina Central University in Durham. He is currently using the rhetoric of Kanye West to examine the tenacity and inflexibility of assumptions, analyzing YouTube comments generated from a variety of interviews and appearances that feature West.


StudentEmilyMorrisEmily Morris

Emily Morris is entering her second year in the master of arts in English program with a concentration in American and British Literature. Morris decided early to pursue an education that would equip her to teach others to be passionate about reading and writing. A native of rural northeast Ohio, she earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Ohio University before joining the Wolfpack at NC State. This summer, she taught reading enrichment classes through NC State’s Institute of Reading Development, which has fueled her desire to become an instructor after graduation. Aside from reading fiction, Morris enjoys practicing yoga, riding her bike, cooking and writing poetry.


StudentTeshaneeWilliamsTeshanee Williams

Teshanee Williams is a second-year graduate student pursuing a master's degree in public administration. She earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology from NC State in 2014, focusing on quantitative and qualitative analysis research. Her primary research interest is in program evaluation as it relates to social equity and public policy issues. She is from the U.S. Virgin Islands and enjoys swimming, biking and spending time with her family.



StudentCharlenaWynnCharlena Wynn

Charlena Wynn, a native of Eden, North Carolina, and a Charlotte transplant, is working toward a master’s degree in liberal studies. In fall 2014, she transferred from Colorado State University. She is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro's art program. Wynn has worked with Pre-K to college-level students in tutoring, after-school programming, and as a teaching assistant for six years. Her thesis – now underway – explores  the history of galleries and museums and their role in upholding race, gender and body performance. As the graduate editor for the Philanthropy Journal, Wynn shares the stories of  nonprofits across the state and around the country. She serves as NC State’s University Graduate Student Association PR officer, as an outreach and communications committee member for the Triangle chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and as a graduate representative for the Council on the Status of Women. Wynn is also passionate about visual arts. Her work is currently on view in downtown Raleigh’s Visual Art Exchange. Wynn’s future could involve a public interest law degree, a doctoral degree in design theory and curatorial studies.

2014-2015 Outstanding Faculty Achievements

Posted on August 25, 2015 5:05 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

NC State’s Humanities and Social Sciences faculty have a well-earned reputation for outstanding scholarship, research, teaching, advising and engagement. A number of faculty earned prestigious awards and other recognition in 2014-2015 from scholarly organizations, from NC State University, and from the college, including:

Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi

Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi (English) has a fellowship from the Carnegie African Diaspora.

Scholarly Organizations 2014-2015

  • William Adler, Philosophy and Religious Studies, earned a fellowship at Free University of Berlin
  • Paul Fyfe, English, has an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography, Rare Book School, Charlottesville
  • Judy Kertesz, History, has a Woodrow Wilson/Mellon Foundation Fellowship
  • Chad Ludington, History, earned a Marie Curie Research Fellowship from the European Commission
  • Joan Pennell, Professor of Social Work and Director of the Center for Family and Community Engagement, was inducted into the Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship
  • Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi, English, has a fellowship from the Carnegie African Diaspora

University Awards 2014-2015

NC State University Academy of Outstanding Teachers Inductees:

  • Gary Comstock, Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
  • Jessica Jameson, Associate Professor of Communication
  • Sanford Kessler, Associate Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs

UNC Board of Governors Teaching Award nominee: Leila May, Associate Professor of English

Office of International Affairs -- Recognition for Leadership in International Education Award: Mark Nance, Assistant Professor of Political Science

David Zonderman

The Alumni Association named David Zonderman (History) as its Distinguished  Undergraduate Professor.

Alumni Association Distinguished Undergraduate Professor: David Zonderman, Professor of History

NC State Faculty Advisor Award: Susan Navey-Davis, Assistant Department Head for Student Affairs, Foreign Languages and Literatures. Navey-Davis was also recognized for excellence in advising at the regional and national levels of the National Academic Advising Association.

NC State Office of Faculty Development -- Community Engaged Faculty Fellow: Willa Casstevens, Associate Professor of Social Work

University Outstanding Extension Award: Mary Haskett, Professor of Psychology. Haskett was also inducted into the NC State Academy of Outstanding Faculty in Extension and Engagement.

NC State Office of International Affairs 2015 Outstanding Global Engagement Award: James Kiwanuka-Tondo, Associate Professor of Communication

Opal Mann Green Engagement Award (two winners):

  • VOLAR, for Voluntarios Ahora en Raleigh, led by Shelley Garrigan, associate professor of Spanish, Debbie Kane, lecturer in Spanish, and James McConnell, lecturer in Spanish, and a team from NC State and the community. VOLAR links students with Spanish-speaking skills with organizations that address the needs of the Hispanic community. The team also received the Fred Fletcher Outstanding Cultural Resources Volunteer Award, given by the City of Raleigh's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.
  • Voices into Action, led by Sarah Bowen and Sinikka Elliot, associate professors of sociology. Voices into Action uses research and community partnerships to encourage and support projects and activities that affect food access and spaces for physical activity. They are currently working in Lee and Harnett Counties and in Southeast Raleigh to better understand community priorities regarding food access, and also conducting research with mothers and grandmothers to learn how families shop for, prepare, and eat food.
Sarah Desmarais

Sarah Desmarais (Psychology) received the college's Outstanding Junior Faculty Award.

College Awards 2014-2015

Outstanding Graduate Professor Award: Deanna Dannels, Professor of Communication

Lonnie and Carol Poole Teaching Excellence Award: Jorge Mari, Associate Professor, Foreign Languages and Literatures

Outstanding Lecturer: Anne Auten, Department of English

Outstanding Advising Award: LaShica Waters, School of Public and International Affairs

Outstanding Research Awards: Roger Azevedo, Professor of Psychology; Steve McDonald, Associate Professor of Sociology

Outstanding Junior Faculty Award: Sarah Desmarais, Associate Professor of Psychology

Students Recognized for Service, Leadership

Posted on August 18, 2015 2:24 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Mathews Medalists 2015

2015 Mathews Medalists Austin Bath, Laura Sandtner, Molly Basdeo, and Alex Parker.

NC State’s Alumni Association pays special attention to students who emerge as campus leaders, knowing the special traits these undergraduates hone here will serve them – and the wider world – once they graduate. Each year, the Alumni Association recognizes a few of the university’s seniors who are role models for leadership and service with the Mathews Medal. Two of the four 2015 recipients are Humanities and Social Sciences students: Austin Bath and Alex Parker.

Park Scholar and pre-med student Austin Bath (biology major, Spanish minor) felt a special calling to serve Raleigh’s Hispanic community. In 2013, he began working with the Open Door Medical Clinic, welcoming incoming patients and translating for them so that they could receive much needed medical care. Bath, who was named as NC State’s 2013 Leader of the Pack, was also active with VOLAR, or Voluntarios Ahora en Raleigh (Volunteers Now in Raleigh), a campus organization that enables students to practice their Spanish language skills while they volunteer. On campus, Bath served as student coordinator for the campus’s annual Stop Hunger Now event, managing the multi-phase project from recruiting volunteers to organizing meal packaging and distribution. He also served as chaplain and philanthropy chair for Kappa Alpha Order.

Caldwell Fellow Alex Parker (Spanish with a teaching education option) served his fellows students as a senator, student senate president and then student body president during 2013-14. During his senior year, Parker became president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, the organization charged with representing all 220,000 students in the UNC system. He met with UNC system administrators and worked with members of the Board of Governors to advocate for student interests. He also co-chaired the Senior Class Council and Senior Class Gift Committee that established a new Student Philanthropy Council.

The Mathews Medal program is administered by the Alumni Association Student Ambassadors Program and is named after Walter J. Mathews, a dedicated, devoted and involved student and alumnus who embodied the ideals of the award. Congratulations to all the medalists.