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Filmmaker Documents America’s First Forest

NC State communication alumnus Paul Bonesteel is the director and founder of Bonesteel Films in Asheville. Photo courtesy of Paul Bonesteel.

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Growing up in Flat Rock, North Carolina, Paul Bonesteel says he was intrigued by the pre-Civil War mansions decaying down the street.

He was equally fascinated at supper time, when his grandparents told stories around the dinner table.

Bonesteel said he relished those opportunities to learn about the past. Today, the filmmaker and NC State communication alumnus is helping educate others by documenting important stories from the 20th century.

His most recent project, “America’s First Forest”, tells the story of Carl Schenck, a German forester who established the nation’s first forestry school and helped launch the American conservation movement. Bonesteel’s production company, Bonesteel Films, created the documentary for the Forest History Society.

Since premiering in 2015, the film has been screened and discussed at universities and festivals along the East Coast, including at NC State’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library. More events are scheduled in 2016, when the film will also air on PBS.

“Some of those who have seen the film may have known about Carl Schenck, but hopefully telling his story more cinematically and interpretively helps people understand it a little deeper,” Bonesteel said. “You can read something in the historical record, but when you can interpret it and take it to another level, that’s one of the things that’s most rewarding as a filmmaker.”

Bonesteel developed a foundation for filmmaking at NC State. Concentrating in video production, he said he gained the confidence he needed to not only get his degree, but prepare for a career in the industry. Every chance he had at being in a studio, he was there, he said. That included multiple jobs with professional TV stations, including UNC-TV and the local NBC affiliate.

“At that time, technology was completely different, but the basics of filmmaking were the same,” Bonesteel said. “From my first production class with Jim Alchediak, I knew I had chosen the major that was right for me. He and all the Communication Department folks made a huge impact on me.”

Reflecting on his other Humanities and Social Sciences courses at NC State, Bonesteel said he appreciates now more than ever the diversity of his education.

Paul Bonesteel, far right, on the set of "America's First Forest." Photo courtesy of Paul Bonesteel.

Paul Bonesteel, far right, on the set of “America’s First Forest.” Photo courtesy of Paul Bonesteel.

“From English to anthropology, those classes were equally important to forming a solid base,” Bonesteel said. “I do contrast that with students who get out of high school and want to specialize in a technical- or art-school curriculum.

“I’m not down on that,” he continued. “I just appreciate and feel that it was best for me to have a broad education experience.”

After graduating in 1987, Bonesteel landed a video production job in Atlanta and lived there for 10 years. He cut his teeth as a camera operator, editor, producer and director while working for a production company.

But eventually, Bonesteel’s desire to work on independent projects, including documentaries, led him to start his own production company, Bonesteel Films. With a staff of six in Asheville, the company produces documentaries like “America’s First Forest,” but also commercial productions for companies like HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel.

Bonesteel Films has produced documentaries that include “The Mystery of George Masa” (2003, PBS) and “The Day Carl Sandburg Died” (2012, American Masters, PBS). For more information, go to www.bonesteelfilms.com.