Wilmington is no stranger to Indiegogo campaigns, especially to fund film projects. “The Park View Project” is a documentary about a hate crime in Wilmington in 1990 whose effects are still felt in the Port City. Producer Tab Ballis sat down to answer some questions for encore readers about his film, its fundraising campaign to bring Talana Kreeger’s tragic story to a larger audience, and why it is important now.
encore (e): Please, explain the back story of Talana Kreeger.
Tab Ballis (TB): Wilmington, NC, was shaken by the horrific murder of Talana Quay Kreeger on February 22, 1990. Published accounts by the Wilmington StarNews alluded to the importance of “homosexuality” in the case without actually discussing the sexuality of the victim—or the fact she encountered her killer in a lesbian bar, the Park View Grill (a location now known as Dubliner Irish Pub). Long haul truck driver Ronald Thomas found his way to Park View, where he drank beer and shot pool with the owner, her partner, and 32-year-old Kreeger. Twelve hours later, at a truck stop on I-95, Thomas spoke to a local minister by phone, as he confessed a murder. The true horror of Kreeger’s death would gradually unfold, as the quiet coastal community of Wilmington learned the gruesome details through media coverage, which revealed how Talana had been manually disemboweled by her attacker; he left her to bleed to death at the edge of a tree-lined field.
Kreeger’s friends were frustrated in their attempts to locate a church willing to host her funeral, in light of the sensationalized coverage of the murder. A scheduled memorial service had been cancelled at the last minute, when the church became aware the deceased was lesbian. It required a hurried relocation to the Church of the Good Shepherd, where the mourners were welcomed. Two years later, in 1992, several grieving friends were among founding members of St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church, part of a Christian denomination that affirms the humanity and spirituality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight people. In the words of one of its early leaders, “We wanted to have a place where we could marry you and bury you.”
e: Tell us more about the doc and a little about its themes.
TB: “The Park View Project” explores cultural, religious, legal, and media implications of a hate crime. It has been in production for over 10 years, while the public discourse on LGBT human rights has gained visibility in North Carolina and nationally. “The Park View Project” has benefited from collaboration with crucial resources, including fiscal sponsorship by The Frank Harr Foundation (www.thefrankharrfoundation.com), which will facilitate tax-deductible contributions to complete the documentary, while also supporting the programs of this nonprofit LGBT advocacy organization. With the support of an Audience Engagement Consultation by Working Films (www.workingfilms.org), we will extend the outreach of “Park View” to a national audience, and engage stakeholders in the advancement of hate crimes protections for these vulnerable communities.
e: How did you become involved with the project?
TB: I moved to Wilmington in 1990, after completing a masters in social work at UNC Chapel Hill. Like the rest of the community, I learned of the tragedy through news reports, and felt haunted by the horror of Kreeger’s death. I was compelled to tell her story. After gaining experience in producing socially-important media projects, I began working with local filmmakers to compile interviews of community members who mourned Kreeger, and became acutely aware of the long-term impacts of hate crimes on marginalized communities, which ultimately retain their trauma long after the tragic event.
e: What do you hope to accomplish with the film?
TB: As the United States advances from the historic Supreme Court decision, affirming marriage equality, we have been confronted by the institutionalized hate of HB2 (the “Bathroom Bill”), directed toward the LGBT citizens of North Carolina, as well as similar regressive legislation proposed and enacted in other states. In particular, it appears a false sense of security has made LGBT people even more vulnerable to the specter of hate crimes in recent years—and these attacks are disproportionately directed toward individuals who are too old, too young, too poor to insulate themselves from harm.
The national tragedy of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and the reality that North Carolina remains in the minority of states lacking any legal hate crime protections for LGBT citizens have magnified the need to create awareness of this growing threat, typically overlooked in the media. “The Park View Project” seeks to initiate dialogue about a more effective response to hate crimes—not only within LGBT communities, but among the family members, advocates and other straight allies who share their concerns for safety.
e: When did you start working on the film?
TB: I started with years of research of the events following the murder of Kreeger in 1990, which revealed the burying of her memory as an impact of the shared trauma of this hate crime, which created isolation within the LGBT communities of Wilmington. In 2004, the production of the film began as a partnership with local filmmaker and original director Ingrid Jungermann, who has moved on to great success with her web series (“The Slope,” “F to 7th”)—most recently, with her dark comedy feature, “Women Who Kill,” which screened at Cucalorus in 2016. Collaborations with other talented filmmakers since then have produced most of the primary footage needed for “The Park View Project,” as we now move toward post-production.
e: You have assembled quite a team; tell us a little about who is bringing what to the table?
TB: In the course of developing a documentary film that will humanize a victim who was rendered a “body found in the woods,” the project has been energized by Stephen Sprinkle’s powerful literary recounting of this and 13 other LGBT hate crime murder victims in his groundbreaking book, “Unfinished Lives” (www.unfinishedlivesblog.com). Steve has joined the production team for “Park View” as associate producer, and his moving narration will enhance the potential for leveraging the project to cable and online networks.
Associate producer Michael Davenport has maintained due diligence for “Park View” from its inception, as our legal advisor. Focusing on a range of specialties in his private practice, including entertainment law, Michael brings passion and integrity to the production. “I became a lawyer out of a deep and abiding aspiration to be of service to those in need,” he often says, “to be of assistance to those in peril…”
e: Tell us about local musician Laura McLean’s soundtrack.
TB: With her musical career in performance and event promotion, and her work in musical education for at-risk youth through DREAMS of Wilmington, Laura has been a strong voice for creativity and community service on the Cape Fear Coast for decades (www.lauramclean.com). Laura’s fearless, soulful style will infuse “Park
View”’s original soundtrack with authenticity, as she captures poignant grittiness of the story, in a manner true to its Southern coastal setting. She makes Kreeger’s spirit come alive with the hauntingly beautiful signature piece, “Left for Dead” (www.cdbaby.com/cd/lauramclean6).
e: You have an Indiegogo project. Why? How much are you trying to raise and what is it needed for?
TB: The Indiegogo campaign ends September 12, and will fund its completion, with key interview and archival footage acquisition, editing, soundtrack, and festival entries. Entirely self-funded to date, “The Park View Project” needs an additional $10,000 to complete post-production and begin distribution through film festivals and private screenings for community and academic groups. You can follow, fund and share “Park View,” www.indiegogo.com/projects/park-view-project-film-lgbt#.
e: Do you have a target date for finishing the film?
TB: “The Park View Project” has been in development for over 10 years, with contributions from filmmakers, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, media representatives, elected officials, student interns, and most importantly, the men and women who lived this story and continue to believe the need to tell it.
The effort to learn the meaning of Kreeger’s life and death, and to make it visible to a larger audience, has always felt like a story that must be told—and would be in its own time. While the risks of delay in completing a dauntingly powerful project such as this are not insignificant, loss of source material, unavailability of subjects, dissipation of interest, it appears the urgency of LGBT human rights is advancing, not diminishing the relevance of the story. Our goal is to obtain funding that will complete “Park View” by May 2018.
e: Once it is finished, how do you plan to get the film seen—not only by those already open to the message but to people who do not actually understand? Does it have a future as a teaching tool?
TB: In order for Kreeger’s story to reach the broadest audience possible, we will follow a multifaceted distribution plan inspired by the successful rollout of the powerful 2010 documentary, “Gen Silent,” in which producer/director Stu Maddux raised the visibility of LGBT elders nationally, facilitating expansion of resources for the underserved groups, including the launch of a SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) chapter in Wilmington (www.facebook.com/groups/1605447193034199).
The first level of the distribution plan is to apply to festivals that cater to a variety of audiences, in order to generate interest in Kreeger’s story—and in advocacy for LGBT hate crime protections, among the majority of Americans who are well-intended but uninformed about the vulnerability of these communities.
Our next level of distribution involves facilitating private screenings for schools, universities, churches, and human-service organizations, whose missions resonate with themes of community and social justice that are explored in “Park View.” We will provide a package of educational tools, to assist in accomplishing the primary mission of creating dialogue on human rights, as a result of viewing the film.
Finally, we hope to extend the impact of “Park View,” through the powerful storytelling of Stephen Sprinkle, by pitching the documentary to a cable network as a pilot for a series based on “Unfinished Lives.”