documentaries light up UNC-TV
Moving of the Cape
Hatteras Lighthouse inspired documentaries.
By ADRIENNE M. JOHNSON, Staff Writer
One of last winter's most contentious questions was
whether the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse should be moved. With a mix of history, pride and
inflexibility, the arguments on both sides created enough drama to draw in the nation. So
it's not surprising that more than one person would come up with the idea of making a
documentary about the relocation.
What might be surprising is that UNC-TV is airing them both.
WRAL's "The Cape Light: Away From the Edge" gets its
second airing Sunday at 7 p.m. "Move of the Century -- Cape Hatteras Light" from
Video Marketing Group Inc. in Raleigh debuts Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.
For thousands of lighthouse lovers, the double bill is a treat.
But Kevin Duffus, who made "Move of the Century," is displeased about sharing
the spotlight with WRAL -- especially since the station was given better access to the
lighthouse itself. And though UNC-TV defends airing both works, the decision to do so was
more happenstance than deliberate.
Both "The Cape Light" and "Move of the
Century" are follow-ups to earlier documentaries that chronicled the lighthouse
debate. WRAL's original piece, the first documentary ever shot in the high-definition
digital format, aired on the station in December.
"We had done stories on the lighthouse," says WRAL
producer Scott Mason. "It was a natural progression to do [the original
Capitol Broadcasting Co. president Jim Goodmon invited the crew
to his home to watch the finished work on his HDTV. After seeing the spectacular vistas,
Mason says, Goodmon suggested they do a documentary on the actual move.
Duffus had also done a production on the lighthouse. His film,
"America's Greatest Sentinel," delved more into the history of lighthouses,
lightships and beacons on Cape Hatteras stopping at the present-day controversy. But he
wasn't new to the subject. In the early '80s, when the lighthouse faced similar problems
with erosion, he says he produced a documentary on Hatteras for WRAL.
"I had to beg the general manager for permission,"
Duffus says. "I had to use my own time. This was all while I was directing the 6
"America's Greatest Sentinel" aired on UNC-TV. When the
controversy got national media attention, PBS called its North Carolina affiliate and
asked whether the station was going to do something on the lighthouse move, says Diane
Lucas, UNC-TV's director of programming.
"We talked to Kevin and discussed whether he should do an
update of the first film or a completely new film," she says. They decided on a new
documentary, and Duffus got started. Although UNC-TV gave Duffus a minimal license fee, he
financed the documentary himself. He has retained total rights over the sale of videos of
his documentary but will share 15 percent of the proceeds with the Eastern National Parks
& Monuments for the restoration and preservation of the lighthouse.
Meanwhile, WRAL struck a deal with the National Park Service,
giving it 24-hour, 7-day-a-week access to the lighthouse. In exchange, the station would
hand over all the footage it shot for the Park Service's archives.
"We got inside the orange fence," Mason says, referring
to the barrier that separated lookyloos and other press members from the construction
site. "We got right under the lighthouse." The station rented a cottage in
March, and about 10 photographers rotated weekly stints at Cape Hatteras.
"We ended up with 140 tapes," Mason says. "That's
about 100,000 feet of tapes or 20 miles worth."
Duffus was left on the other side of the fence.
"I didn't think it was fair," he says. He wanted to
file a freedom of information motion to get access to the footage WRAL shot, but the Park
Service told him it would take three years to archive the footage.
Duffus ended up incorporating footage shot by WITN, the NBC
station in eastern North Carolina, which had been shooting the lighthouse since December.
"The final documentary is 70 percent my photography and 30 percent theirs," he
Unbeknownst to Duffus, WRAL approached UNC-TV and offered the
station its documentary, with the goal of pairing it with the relighting of the lighthouse
and getting statewide coverage. (The relighting has since been postponed.) Lucas agreed.
She says she sees nothing wrong with offering viewers two takes on the lighthouse move,
which she calls the "subject du jour." In fact, she says, the station is
considering two works about another North Carolina treasure, the Blue Ridge Parkway.
At the same time, she understands how Duffus feels.
"It's a little difficult situation for Kevin," Lucas
says, "but we're trying to treat him as fairly as we can." She points out that
while the WRAL works airs twice, Duffus' film gets nice play in the station's monthly
As for viewers, they'll see documentaries that are quite
different. Shot again in the HDTV format, WRAL's "The Cape Light" is a visual
delight. It focuses on the people surrounding the move and the workers who pulled it off.
Duffus' "Move of the Century" is more content heavy,
exploring the lighthouse's history to explain the inevitability of the move. It uses
computer animation to show the shifting coastline and how each phase of the move occurred.
"Realistically, with three different runs of the shows,
different people tune into different airings," says Lucas. "There are plenty of
viewers to go around for all the shows."
Adrienne M. Johnson can be reached at
829-4751 or email@example.com
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