TN Filmmaker Plans New Jesco White Documentary
Filmmaker Storm Taylor doesn’t expect everyone to be glad that somebody else is doing a documentary about Jesco White and his family. The star of “The Dancing Outlaw” has an international cult following, both for his mountain dancing and for his often bizarre antics.
Taylor says he’s heard many times, “You’re going to make West Virginia look bad.“
“He believes people who think in those terms shouldn’t turn their heads. It’s really part of the problem. “It’s not ‘Hillbillies Gone Wild,’” he said. “A lot of people want to think that’s what we’re doing. The Whites are what they are. There’s no faking it.”
For the past year, Taylor and his film crew have visited Boone County. They’ve filmed White, his family and the people surrounding them for a documentary titled “The Wild and Wonderful Whites.” The documentary is bankrolled by Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze and Jeff!
Tremaine, the creators of the wildly popular MTV series “Jackass,” which featured Knoxville and his friends performing dangerous, self-destructive and crude pranks and stunts.
Taylor says he understands rural people are sensitive to how they’re portrayed in the media. He comes from Maryville, Tenn., a small town just outside of Knoxville, where he spends most of his time working in real estate to support his part-time interest in filmmaking.
“I met Johnny (Knoxville) at a pool hall in south Knoxville,” Taylor said. “I came outside and there was a guy sitting in my car listening to my Johnny Cash cassette.”The two hit it off. After Knoxville went to California and became a television and film star, Taylor worked on several productions with him and others connected with “Jackass.”
He says he could work full-time in film and television if he wanted, but has little interest in making commercials. For a while, he filmed a regional travel show for Turner Broadcasting, which gave him the opportunity to explore one of his main interests.
“I love small-town culture,” he said. “Any chance I get to see something small-town, a fair or folk art, I grab it.”
The travel show had a limited run and was only available in 13 states, but it did give him the chance to meet White. Taylor says he was a fan, but they became friends.
“It all took on a bigger aspect than I thought,” he said.
Seeing how White lived, Taylor got involved with the dancer. He and his crew stripped out old insulation and underpinned White’s trailer. They built a front porch for him and worked on some of the electrical problems in the building. Taylor visited from time to time and hung out with White.
A chance meeting between Julien Nitzburg, one of the producers of the original “Dancing Outlaw” video, and Knoxville sparked a conversation about doing another documentary. Knoxville suggested Taylor would be the right man to do it.
“My key concern was that it be done correctly,” Taylor said. “This is not a ‘Dancing Outlaw Part 3,’ but a reintroduction to Jesco and the entire family. They’re fascinating people and I think many people are surprised they’re amazingly likeable.”
But he’s not pulling his punches. Taylor’s film crew spent a year following the family. Some of Taylor’s footage includes filming people in jail or getting out of jail, people in rehab and even people getting kicked out of rehab.
“But we also talked to the sheriff,” he said. “We talked to the attorneys. We interviewed some of the pastors from the community. We tried to keep it well-rounded and true.”
Taylor says part of White’s issues come from the intense poverty the family has endured over the years. A culture of entitlement has developed around them. A belief the family is owed money has caused rifts between people who could and would help them.
He says White is surrounded by more than enough “great friends,” who don’t care so much for the man, but would rather see the crazy character.
“They want to take him out drinking,” he said. “They’re the ones killing the guy.”
Taylor isn’t saying he hasn’t been guilty of the same thing. Back when he first started coming to visit White at his trailer, he was one of those people who showed up on his doorstep with a jar of moonshine ready to party. Over the past year, as he’s had the chance to see the value of those kinds of friends, he’s changed his approach.
“These days, I call ahead and make sure he’s got something to eat,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t eat right. He doesn’t take care of himself.”
Taylor says the film is almost finished. With another month of editing, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites” will be ready for film festivals.
“We have 500 hours of footage,” he said. “This ought to be a six-part series instead of just an hour-and-a-half film.”
Although he hopes “The Wild and Wonderful Whites” will be picked up for distribution at movie houses, he’s realistic. Only a spare handful of documentaries get picked up for national distribution. A few end up as art house films. But he expects “The Wild and Wonderful Whites” will probably find its audience on DVD.
~~ by BILL LYNCH / AP ~~