Student-produced film ‘Welcome to Sockville’ to screen at Raleigh’s Longleaf Film Festival

Brandon Talton ’23, a cinema and television arts BFA major, produced the 12-minute documentary as part of his Advanced Documentary and Nonfiction Production class.

In Associate Professor Nicole Triche’s communication to share – and celebrate – the upcoming screening of Brandon Talton’s documentary, “Welcome to Sockville,” at the 2023 Longleaf Film Festival in Raleigh, it is obvious the cinema and television arts BFA major has made a lasting impression.

Brandon Talton ’23 produced, directed and edited “Welcome To Sockville,” a 12-minute documentary highlighting the Burlington Sock Puppets, a summer collegiate baseball team of the Appalachian League, and its connection to the community.

In her email, Triche called Talton a “focused student” and a “film scholar,” who immerses himself in cinema regardless of the genre. Plus, the professor said, Talton is simply a “super nice guy.”

The Elon senior’s documentary, a 12-minute film on a baseball club’s rebranding and its connection to the Burlington, North Carolina, community, will screen on Friday, May 12, at 8:30 p.m. as a part of the festival’s Movies-N-Moonlight Film Block in Raleigh’s Bicentennial Plaza. Click here to see a trailer for the film.

Long before “Welcome to Sockville” received public adoration, the project began as an assignment in Talton’s Advanced Documentary and Nonfiction Production class with Triche. Well, it actually started before the semester got underway, the professor pointed out.

According to Triche, Talton spent the entire summer filming the Burlington Sock Puppets’ season and walked into class with “most of his principal photography complete,” she marveled.

Talton, who is a Communications Fellow, explained that the project idea came to him while attending a Sock Puppets game with a friend, and that he had no previous knowledge of the franchise or its recent start.

“I knew nothing of the Sock Puppets until that day, and something immediately drew me to the club’s willingness to embrace their name,” Talton said. “With the way that they were operating, I just assumed that they had been around for years.”

The community’s excitement was contagious and Talton emailed the organization’s general manager, Anderson Rathbun, out of the blue the following day to ask about filming the club for a documentary.

A promotional poster for “Welcome to Sockville,” which will screen on Friday, May 12, at Raleigh’s Longleaf Film Festival.

“I didn’t admit that I had no clue what the documentary was going to be about besides the rebuild, but I felt compelled to reach out,” he said. “With all of this said, I think what interested me about the Sock Puppets was that they were special to Burlington, and I’m a big believer that every town and city has something special that’s truly their own.”

The Wayne County, North Carolina, native said he is likely influenced by his own region’s captivating history – the site of an almost catastrophe accident and an annual pickle festival.

“I’m always curious about learning what makes each town unique,” Talton explained.

While the subject of his documentary remained the same, the project’s execution changed during filming.

Talton originally wanted to make a handheld verité documentary where the viewer watched the relationship between the Sock Puppets and Alamance County community naturally unfold with a few interviews shot in the moment. That style mimicked the 1967 music documentary by Murray Lerner titled “Festival” – a favorite of Talton’s.

But midway through shooting the project, Talton reviewed his footage and decided to pivot. He continued with the handheld verité approach, but conducted about a dozen interviews with staff, players and city officials. As he began editing the project later that fall, he admitted that he was “stumped” with how to blend his verité footage with traditional interviews. Talton then found inspiration from the 2017 documentary “Jane” by Brett Morgen, which paired similar styles.

Triche isn’t surprised by Talton’s ability to glean ideas from other films and projects because consuming cinema is what he does.

“Brandon … loves watching all kinds of films beyond class,” Triche said. “He goes to art house theaters, checks out DVDs from the library and goes to film festivals. Brandon would even bring in short documentary films for our class to watch. I love to talk with him about film, and he always has good recommendations.”

While Talton said he enjoys collaborating with others, he takes pride in the fact that “Welcome to Sockville” is almost entirely his creation. But he said he is grateful for the support of classmates Isaac Kunesh ’23 and Addie Holden ’23.

“This documentary gave me an opportunity to learn everything about cameras, sound, editing, producing, interviewing, and so on and so forth,” Talton said. “I barely knew a thing about cameras going into this project, and now I know the Canon C70 almost like the back of my hand – especially C70 #6 from The Gear Room, I love that camera.

“Every project is a learning opportunity,” he added. “And so I’m grateful to know what I can do differently with my next documentary.”

The Longleaf Film Festival is an annual juried festival sponsored and administered by the North Carolina Museum of History. The event highlights independent films that demonstrate a Tar Heel State connection, through the people involved in making them, their filming location, or through their subject.