“The Spirit of Asheville” (video) by Arthur Hancock and Katie Brugger. Time Capsule Video: Highlands. Running Time: 73 minutes.
The Spirit of Asheville” is an unabashed siren call to the rest of the world: “Come to Asheville! This is the land of your heart’s desire.” In terms of photography, it is truly a visual feast. “Spirit” unrolls like a tapestry of fluid and vibrant images — each capturing a unique aspect of this “city with a small-town atmosphere.”
Even native-born denizens of this region will find themselves enthralled by a diversity of culture and entertainment currently flourishing in and around Asheville. Quite honestly, I had no idea all of these wonderful treasures existed. From the hypnotic, sustained thrum of a golden cymbal in the Skinny Beats Drum Shop to the raucous cacophony of Jack of the Woods string band at midnight, this video provides a kind of symphony of Asheville’s sounds, sights and attitudes. Motorcycle enthusiasts streak down the Blue Ridge Parkway and joyful multitudes gather for the drumming sessions in Prichard Park. The animated atmosphere of Bele Chere blends with dozens of sidewalk performers, jugglers and musicians — all contrasting with other, peaceful images: the serenity of yoga classes, falling snow and the placid flow of mountain streams.
“The Spirit of Asheville” contains numerous interviews with both visitors and local entrepreneurs; a multitude of residents (mostly transplants) provide enthusiastic endorsements for everything from hiking and camping to the quality of the region’s beer (breweries are flourishing in this region). Owners of innovative industries speak with pride about their efforts to create alternative fuels, ecology-oriented housing and “cutting edge” media technology.
In short, Asheville has become a mecca for a middle-class that seeks an environment that combines “quality of life” experience with maximum cultural enrichment. It is all here: a region rich in history, tradition and natural beauty. In “Spirit,” artists, musicians and writers repeatedly speak of Asheville’s casual, “liberal” or open-minded atmosphere. One enraptured transplant describes the region as “Southern, mountain and progressive” combined with “hospitality.” At one point, a number of self-proclaimed independent “free spirits” interviewed on Lexington Avenue noted that they had migrated from the west coast to Asheville (one noted that she came for Asheville’s “hippie feel with a modern twist.”
Indeed, in “Spirit” this mountain city emerges as the “American dream” for a large segment of this country’s middle-class. Wonderful food, musical entertainment, funky blue grass saloons, a fantastic climate, folk festivals, independent bookstores, coffee houses, beer parlors, quality theater productions and, if we are to believe the energetic chorus of interviewees, all of that wrapped in an atmosphere of laid-back casualness and friendliness that is uniquely southern. Wow!
However, the greatest appeal of “Spirit” is the lush richness of the photography. Indeed, there are numerous scenes that are captured so perfectly, they would serve as vibrant paintings: a frisky bobcat in a tree, a yawning bear, deer in Cades Cove, snow-laden hemlocks, a nest of wild bees, spring flowers at the Asheville Arboretum, a weaver at the Folk Art Center, basket-making artisans and an endless collection of wonder-struck children, playful dogs and a final shot of Asheville’s nighttime skyline that is painfully beautiful. This is the point, I think. Although the obvious purpose of this film is to provoke a migration of well-heeled hedonists to “The Land of Sky,” this visual paean has an additional value. It is a work of art.
Are there flaws in “The Spirit of Asheville?” A few, I think, and this is purely a personal quibble, but I’ll go ahead and give it.
It is too long. It could stand to lose 15 minutes.
Finally, there is a neglected target group out there who yearn to come to our beautiful mountains, but their concerns were not addressed in this film. They are the retired people who love the region’s scenery, art, culture and music, but invariably want information about more personal issues ... things like the quality of medical care, the presence of retirement communities and support services for the elderly. I know because at this point in my life, that is what I want to know about. Oh, I will be an enthusiastic participant in all of the wondrous diversions treated in this film, or at least in the ones that I am capable of enjoying.
If Asheville has truly become the modern Byzantium — a place which, according to William Butler Yeats, is teeming with the young “in one another’s arms.” Yeats further notes that it is “no country for old men.” I hope that isn’t so of the “Mountain mecca.” I think I saw a few of my peers in this film, sitting quietly in the background or moving along the sidewalk (with canes and metal walkers) near Malaprops. In “Spirit II,” let us send a heartfelt invitations to them, as well.