Down in the Old Belt

From Jamestown to the Buyout, Down in the Old Belt: Voices from the Tobacco South traces the history and culture of tobacco in the Old Belt of Virginia. Based on interviews and oral histories of 26 Old Belt tobacco farming families, Down in the Old Belt reveals tobacco’s historic decline in context to the land and its farming people.

The tobacco farmers of the Old Belt of Virginia represent a history and a way of life that began with the founding of Jamestown and the colony of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay.

Today, tobacco farmers in Southside Virginia, like coal miners in Appalachia, have come upon hard times. Production moving overseas, declining quotas, society’s changing attitudes toward tobacco, and the recent buyout ending the tobacco allotment program, have forever altered the cultural landscape of the Old Belt, the birthplace of Bright Leaf tobacco.

These farmers tell their stories not for sympathy, but to reveal what is fading in the wake of this change. Their stories personify the cultural evolution occurring in agriculture throughout the United States today.

Running time: 57 minutes
Format: DVC Pro 50 digital tape and DVD
Sponsor: The History Museum and Historical Society of Western Virginia.
Writer, Producer, Director: Jim Crawford, Swinging Gate Productions, LLC
Videographer – Post Production: Dan Mirolli, Virginia Tech Visual and Broadcast Communications
Field Production: Dan Mirolli, Josh Napier, Keith Thomas, Jerry Scheeler, Virginia Tech Visual and Broadcast Communications
Narrator: Tony Gilbert
Funding Organizations and Individuals: The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, Rural Economic Analysis Program of the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, The Southern Tobacco Communities Project, Dreaming Hand Foundation, Woltz and Associates, Ann Martyn and Frank O’Brien, Tom and Anna Lawson, Charlene Hutchinson, Charles Hawkins, Danville Tobacco Association, Concerned Friends for Tobacco, Danville Historical Society, Flue-Cured Tobacco Corporation, Virginia Tech Geography Department. The Institute for Environmental Negotiation at the University of Virginia sponsored the research and scriptwriting phase of the documentary.
Soundtrack Arranger/producer/composer: Jim Crawford
Musicians: The Wolfe Brothers, The Celtibillies, Stacy Hobbs, Bill Ray, Jack Hinshelwood, Tim Sauls, Jeff Hofmann, Wes Chappell, Jim Crawford

"Down in the Old Belt" Awarded Best Documentary Film

at the Appalachian Film Festival, April 27-29, 2006. 

Click here for more information and images of festival.

For images of the Richmond Premiere at the Library of Virginia and presentation of the  Senate Joint Resolution No. 174, commending the film as "an outstanding documentary film  on the history and culture of tobacco in Virginia" click here.

Reviews of "Down in the Old Belt" click here.

VFH Views
The Newsletter of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
"Down in the Old Belt" article, PDF file, Winter 2006. Page 6. click here