Booneville is home to a video production project know as This Is Arkansas.
It’s no run of the mill studio. For starters, it’s headed up by a blind man, W. Ray Bertram, who bills himself as the Blind Film Maker of Arkansas. He calls his non-profit organization Blind Man’s Bluff Productions.
“We kind of snuck into Booneville,” Bertram told the Booneville Rotary Club Friday. “You turned around and there we were standing back in the corner.”
Bertram says he is not “seeing eye-dog blind” but he is legally blind because of a condition called optic neuropathy. He woke up one morning five years ago and could not see out of his left eye. Last summer he woke up and couldn’t see out of his right eye.
Bertram and his crew strive to produce top quality documentaries about towns, or facets of them, that are then exhibited on the Internet through YouTube.
“What we want to do is use today’s readily available technology, in conjunction with today’s easily accessible social media and make world class production videos about towns and communities that don’t have the budgets that those larger cities do,” said Bertram. “Larger cities my spend tens or upwards of a hundred thousand dollars on productions that we provide smaller towns for free.
“Then they will spend even more money, tens of thousands of dollars in hopes that somebody will watch the commercials.”
Rather than an attractive AETN broadcast reaching 30,000 to 50,000, Bertram said, through a viral video production hundreds of thousands or even millions of people may see it.
“All anyone has to do is pass that link on and every time they do Booneville rises that much higher on a world stage,” said Bertram. “Just think about what happens if an entire is motivated, working together on this mass media cutting edge, very modern marketing tool, all we have to do is pass the link.
“The only limit on how far our town productions go is the town itself.”
The This Is Arkansas pilot episode is about Paris and is currently in production, Bertram said. A documentary on Waldron will be episode 2 and Hartford, Clarksville, and others are on tap too.
Blind Man’s Bluff has already completed a documentary about the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium that is on the web on their YouTube channel, search ThisIsArkansas.
“The Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium was the largest one in the United States. Treatments and cures knowledge was pioneered there that in turn literally traveled the planet,” said Bertram. “That’s Booneville history.
“Every community that we go to has something incredible. What we like to do is help that community discover it.”
Instead of telling them what that is, Bertram said, they listen.
Besides a documentary for This Is Arkansas, Bertram said he would like to do a documentary about Booneville on Friday nights in the fall, one on historical aspects.
The projects serve as platforms to meld people together within the same community, as was the case in Paris where museum curators and students became entwined on the project there.
The organization operates largely on grants acquired by communities who enlist the studio to produce high quality documentaries that then become marketing tools through link postings and such.
“What we would ultimately like to do is apply for a sustainable state level grant and that way we could simply go into the communites as they approach us and as the need was shown and we can make those documentaries,” said Bertram.