“In May 1988, girlfriends Claudia Brenner and Rebecca Wight were attacked while hiking the Appalachian Trail by a ‘mountain man’ named Stephen Roy Carr. Combining documentary and narrative material, In the Hollow tells the story of the shooting, Wight’s death, and Brenner’s desperate survival (and later transformation into an advocate for hate crime legislation in the U.S.) as she returns to the trail for the first time since the shooting.”
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Director Austin Bunn combines documentary materials and narrative film elements, using the actual locations on the trail and dramatizations co-written by Claudia Brenner based on her testimony. The film follows Brenner as she hikes the Appalachian Trail, twenty-six years later, in search of the site of the shooting and path of her survival. Shot five times, Claudia Brenner eventually became a victim’s advocate and a passionate campaigner for the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, the first piece of Federal legislation in the history of hate crime legislation in America.
Written, edited, and directed by PMA assistant professor Austin Bunn, In the Hollow premieres on shortoftheweek.com on October 10, 2016. In the Hollow was funded by Cornell Council for the Arts, Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, The Zwickler Memorial Fund, The Department of Performing and Media Arts, Cornell’s Feminist Gender & Sexuality Studies, and LGBT Studies Departments, and produced with the assistance of The Center for Independent Documentary. Among the film’s major festival screenings and awards are Best Short Film, InsideOut (Toronto); Audience Prize, Best Short Documentary, NewFest (NYC); Jury Prize, Best Short Doc, USN/Expo (Italy); Audience Award, Best Short Doc, MiFlo LGBT Film Festival (Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL); Jury Prize, Best Short Doc, OutonFilm (Atlanta).
What inspired the film?
After a screening of another short documentary I’d made, Claudia Brenner approached me to see if I’d be interested in collaborating to tell her story on film. She’d been asked by producers many times but had always turned them down. I knew the vague outlines of the story from growing up in New Jersey, when, as Boy Scouts, we were told the Appalachian Trail was dangerous because of this very murder. I’ve long been interested in forms of non-fiction storytelling, and this incredibly gripping story seemed a natural fit for the short film format.
What were you personally looking to achieve with the film?
I knew most what I didn’t want to make: a cheesy, exploitative dramatization. We’ve all seen these versions on basic cable, or flashback sequences in crime drama. My goal was to “conjure” up the past by emphasizing a genuine relationship between Claudia and Rebecca — so they weren’t simply victims — and then collaborate with my terrific director of photography Spencer Gillis to make the past look as immersive and beatific as possible. We had documentary footage of Claudia hiking the trail, and more traditional narrative scenes with actors. I had no idea how they would go together — but editing it myself dropped that challenge right into my own lap. Thankfully, my producing partner (and partner in life) Bob Hazen was willing to teach me this screenwriter Premiere.
Director/Editor/Writer: Austin Bunn
Producers: Austin Bunn, Bob Hazen, Spencer Gillis, Chris Cocco