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Center for Documentary Studies

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Return of Dr. Thunder: One cat’s journey from Texas to North Carolina to the afterlife—and back

Posted by , and on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 1:29 PM

photo courtesy of Kellie Hamilton - TINY MONTY ... OR DR. THUNDER?
  • Tiny Monty ... or Dr. Thunder?
  • photo courtesy of Kellie Hamilton
There is something about cats that makes you ponder the uncanny.

In "The Return of Dr. Thunder," Kellie Hamilton shares the story of how one cat traveled from Texas to North Carolina to the Great Beyond. And then, possibly, back again.

We love the quirky humor of this story, and the gentle way that the narrator approaches it. The cat's owner later said that he felt silly revealing his belief in reincarnated pets, but as the ending shows, he's not the only one out there wondering if his cat is a part of something larger—some vast unknown, a cosmic cattery we can only glimpse.

"Whether a lot of us admit it or not, many of us have a similar sense of having known a person or a pet before," says Kellie. "To have somebody who's willing to go into it and talk about it—to me, that was a gift."

Kellie lives on a small farm in Rougemont with her husband, son and daughter. In addition to producing audio stories, Kellie works as a technical writer, project manager, equestrian, donkey breeder and fainting goat broker.

For her next assignment, she's collecting stories of vacations gone awry. Email your tales of airport misadventures and other lost-in-translation moments to and we’ll pass them along.

Audio Under the Stars is an outdoor community listening party. Each summer, we curate a monthly playlist of interesting, funny, or otherwise compelling audio stories around a specific theme, and invite everyone to join us to share them under the stars. We welcome great stories from all over, but some of our favorites have a local flavor. Many are produced by the audiophiles at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies. We welcome submissions or ideas at You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter @AudioStars.

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    An audio tale of feline reincarnation, courtesy of Audio Under the Stars

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Audio: The sounds of summer on the day before the solstice

Posted by on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 1:21 PM

  • photo by Brian Howe
Last Third Friday, June 20, I attended the first Audio Under the Stars event at SPECTRE Arts, a small gallery near Golden Belt.

In a preview in the INDY, I had described it as “The Moth, but prerecorded.” But with ambient sounds and music mixed in, it wound up feeling more like a bite-sized This American Life.

Or, perhaps, This Durham Life, as the first installment, titled “Sound Solstice,” featured stories at least tangentially connected to summertime in the Bull City.

Among a couple of dozen other people, I lounged on a coarsely woven blanket in the gallery’s small courtyard, drinking red wine from a plastic cup and eating incredibly sweet creampuffs. The atmosphere was warm in both the literal and social senses; the setting intimate and cozy.

There was a stage, but with no one on it, I chose to recline and look up at the sky. This is what I saw: The strings of lights raked overhead were like a musical staff on creamy blue vellum, gradually deepening into twilight, as airplanes and flocks of birds flew across like scrolling notes.

As I watched, I listened. This is what I heard: There was the one about the tobacco auctioneer and the robot. The one about the reincarnated cat, Dr. Thunder reborn as Tiny Monty. The one about flinging dead kittens into a thicket of briars (listen below) and the one about the man who stole a tree.

Stories bred stories. Afterward, I wandered over to the Scrap Exchange to try to catch the end of the Durham Cinematheque show, but it was already over. My companion and I were engaged on the street by a neurologist carrying a folding camp chair. He had also just come from SPECTRE Arts. Unprompted, he started telling us about brains.

Brains were saddle-shaped and had four different possible affinities, he said. He had a serotonin-style brain, which made him calm, he said. He had gotten interested in the brain after adopting his daughter from a schizophrenic woman in Kazakhstan who didn’t even know she’d had a child, he said.

I believed him, but my brain didn’t feel saddle-shaped. It felt like a cool, flat pond—or a deep blue sky, purpling in the twilight—from laying very still in the courtyard and listening to stories, on the night before the solstice, almost dead center in the heart of summer.

The neurologist bounded off into that darkness, which now seemed laden with untold potential, seeming suddenly alert to the notion that he had a few stories to tell himself. 

Submit yours here
 for the next Audio Under the Stars event, themed “Fish Out of Water,” which returns to SPECTRE Arts on July 18.

Listen to "Brambles" by Elizabeth Friend:
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    Hear an audio story from the inaugural Audio Under the Stars event at SPECTRE Arts

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

What the ocean saw: David Gatten's films at NCSU

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 12:31 PM

N.C. State University
Caldwell Hall G107, 2221 Hillsborough St.
Fri., Feb. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.

This is the true story of how the ocean made a movie.

To be more precise, filmmaker David Gatten collaborated on a movie with the Atlantic Ocean, where the Edisto River empties its freshwater into the ocean’s salt along the South Carolina coast. Gatten put unexposed 16mm film stock into a crab trap, tied the ends of a 50-foot rope to the trap and his ankle, and dropped it into the water.

from How to Conduct a Love Affair
 (2007), David Gatten
After a while, he pulled it out and printed it. He didn’t develop it. He didn’t record sound, leaving the optical sound strip on the film to the mercy of the underwater elements. Basically he just put it in a projector. That’s What the Water Said.

“The ocean made the movie,” Gatten says. “The exposure, the processing, the chemistry, the physical interaction—everything—was entirely the ocean. I didn’t do anything other than decide how long it should be in the water, at high tide, ebb tide, low tide. And how much film I was going to put in. The ocean and crabs decided how much film I was going to get back. They did the editing. They did the sound. I was the producer.”

Gatten made three such films in 1998, returning to the South Carolina coast in 2007 to make three more. This more recent set, along with five other 16-mm films from his acclaimed career, will be screened in a mini-retrospective on Friday evening at N.C. State.

It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of the country’s foremost experimental filmmakers with Gatten at the projector’s controls. In his omnipresent overalls, he’ll introduce the films, something he doesn’t often get to do but considers an integral part of the screening. Neither dramatic nor scripted nor off-the-cuff, he nonetheless sets the films up with a precise, evocative monologue before bringing the screen to life an exact beat after he stops talking. A screening is a performance, to his mind.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Woodpecker deserves more than cult status; brilliant new film plays one night-only at CDS

Posted by on Fri, Feb 11, 2011 at 11:58 AM

On Friday night, WOODPECKER, Alex Karpovsky’s low-key, hilarious “ficumentary,” screens at the Center for Documentary Studies in Durham. The screening is part of the Southern Circuit Filmmakers tour, which mostly features documentaries, with the occasional fiction film thrown into the mix. Genre-wise, Woodpecker throws a curve of its own, with a concocted plot about a pair of intrepid birdwatchers threaded through a conventional documentary about the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker, a species thought to be extinct until sightings began to crop up in the Arkansas bayou in 2004.

Still from Woodpecker
  • Still from Woodpecker

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Literary event of the night: Ex-Harpers editor Roger Hodge to discuss his "rise and fall" tonight at CDS

Posted by on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 4:59 PM

If you haven't heard of Roger D. Hodge, you're likely familiar with the magazine he used to edit: Harpers Magazine.The 43 year old, who first began working at Harpers as a fact checker in 1996, was recently sacked from the editorship, which he assumed in 2006.

Why was he canned? Well, that's the subject of tonight's event, which bears the perhaps intentionally florid title of "My Rise and Fall: Roger Hodge on the State of Magazines."

Tonight at the Center for Documentary Studies, Hodge will engage in a public conversation with Duncan Murrell, a Pittsboro writer and teacher who has published in Harpers, the Independent Weekly and points in between. The talk is free and begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of CDS.

The last Hodge piece we read was a corker called "The Mendacity of Hope." In it, he called out Barack Obama's failure to remotely live up to the hopes of his supporters—by perpetuating the travesty of Guantánamo Bay  and escalating the war in Afghanistan, among other things—and he also criticized liberals for projecting such wishes on a man who, after all, ran as a centrist.

The piece is here, but subscription is required.

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