With all the native wit, rib tickling humor and ability to see what makes the South the South found in the literary classics of Southern writers like Mark Twain, documentary filmmaker Stan Woodward helps us discover the common thread that connects the South’s people across all social, economic, political and racial boundaries – Grits! “Grits is us” - or, if we are to be grammatically correct, “Grits are us” - could easily be the title of this uproariously funny and at the same time insightful and poignant personal documentary.
Woodward used what, at the time, was a highly unconventional camera style and interviewing technique – called “direct cinema” - a style of hand-held, spontaneous, first-person singular storytelling where the cameraman becomes an active participant and interlocutor for the story. Having learned this hand-held camera style from the New York filmmakers who invented the crystal synch system that freed the 16mm camera from the tripod in the 1960's, Stan uses the camera to initiate the interaction with folk as he moves his query into grits and its place within the culture of the South, we travel with him through the Southern cultural landscape catching people unrehearsed with a simple, story-unfolding question – “Excuse me…Do you eat Grits?” Then, with the surprise you come to expect as you are hurtled through this artist’s journey, the same question is posed on the streets of New York, leading to a wonderful creation of a grits souffle by New York Times food writer, Craig Claiborne.
A film that started out to be a 10 minute short became a 44 minute Southern documentary classic. It was shown in its first year over 100 times by the filmmaker throughout the South. It was the keynote film for the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the Museum of Natural History in N.Y. It won top honors in all the major non-theatrical film festivals when it first appeared in 1980. It is still shown today throughout the South in Museums, public libraries, schools and universities. However, in 2002 it was discovered that the 16mm printing elements for this Southern classic had deteriorated, leading to a campaign to preserve and restore the film. Patrons of the film classic contributed funds that enabled the NEA film preservation grant and the digital restoration of IT’S GRITS.
At the time of the film’s release in 1980, it received a national screening over PBS accompanied by the following review in the New York Times by film critic, John O’Connor, as well as words of praise from food editor, Craig Claiborne:
“An engaging, sometimes hilarious celebration of one of America’s most interesting and singular (or is it plural?) foods. This is a film to be taken seriously by anyone who cares about America’s culinary heritage.” - Craig Claiborne, Food Editor, The New York Times