Lights, camera, recreation

THE SCENE was staged, if not scripted.

Belinda Gergel sat at the head of her kitchen table, brainstorming with the Watson family about a possible walking history tour in Columbia.

Behind her, a video camera hummed, gathering scenes for an entry in a contest for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation’s Reel Action Film Festival.

“We want people to be able to walk and learn more about Columbia’s history,” Gergel said. “How long do you think people would be willing to walk?”

Jay Watson, 11, suggested: “No more than an hour and a half.”

“Do you think your friends would do a walking tour like this?” Gergel asked.

The Watsons talked it over — Jay, along with his sisters, Caterine, 14, and Bess, 8, and parents Cal and Cathy. Maybe it would be best to break it up into several shorter tours, they decided.

The 20-minute conversation might not make for scintillating video, but that’s not the point. The conversation was integral to planning the walking tour, even if it might take up less than 30 seconds of the film contest entry.

The foundation’s contest is looking for films no longer than 10 minutes. They must be created by amateurs, set primarily in the outdoors and relate to outdoor recreation.

“We’re looking for something that will entertain,” said Ken Driggers, executive director of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation. “It can be funny. It can be serious. Just don’t be boring.”

The five top entries will receive cash awards or gift certificates ranging from $500 to $100. They will be unveiled at a red carpet premiere at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Oct. 11, the highlight of a weekend of outdoor-related activities.

The entry deadline is Sept. 1, and DVDs already have begun to trickle in. The early contenders lean to the “odd” category. One is an ode to crickets, or at least critters and eats it.

Gergel’s film will be a more conventional documentary, detailing the planning for the walking tour and then following the Watson family as they walk it.

At the first planning session, the crew seemed to narrow the focus to antebellum Columbia. The choice had a lot to do with the Watsons’ background.

Cal Watson is president of the Historic Columbia Foundation board. Cathy Watson can trace her roots back to the city’s founding Taylor family.

The first stop on the tour will be the small cemetery at Richland and Barnwell streets where Col. Thomas Taylor is buried. Much of Columbia’s downtown once was part of the Taylor plantation.

The key for the tour from that starting point is to plot a course that would mix history with just enough exercise. And the key for the film is to make that process interesting. Gergel, whose son is a professional filmmaker in New York, recognizes the challenge.

“We used to take film of our children every step of the way,” she said. “But it’s been a while since I had a camera in my palm.”

She thinks one of the children could do the film’s narrative. After the planning meeting, the film would move on to the various sites, maybe 90 seconds at each one, with brief shots of the family walking from site to site.

“We’ll jump in the car with the children and map out a plan,” Gergel said. “I’ve seen my son do this before. We can do it.” If you think you can do it, go online to and get the details on entering the competition.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.

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