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New Horace Kephart documentary to be premiered in Bryson City

Posted by | 06.14.2017

Great Smoky Mountains Association and the Kephart Foundation will premiere a new documentary focusing on the life of Horace Kephart in two public presentations July 7 and 8 in Bryson City.

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These free-to-the-public presentations will include an appearance by filmmaker and great-granddaughter Libby Kephart Hargrave, who will hold question-and-answer sessions following each showing: Friday, July 7, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.); and Saturday, July 8, at 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:30 p.m.). Both evening and matinee showings will be held at the Swain County Center for the Arts on the campus of Swain County High School.

Kephart found his way to Western North Carolina in the early 1900s after suffering a mental breakdown. He was looking for a “back of beyond” where nature could play a primary role in his healing. During his recovery in the Hazel Creek community just west of Bryson City, he found the people, their lives and the places they called home so engaging that he began to document what he saw. His stories of the mountain people resulted in the publication of  “Our Southern Highlanders,” which has been described as one of the first accurate portrayals of Appalachian culture.

When the mountain life he’d become a part of began to be threatened by outside forces, including the devastation caused by the logging industry, Kephart became an advocate for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today, he is recognized as an author, scholar, and outdoorsman who had a vision for the park’s creation. Hargrave’s film tells his story in captivating detail with never-before-seen photographs, documents, original music and art. 

“I was born into the story of Horace Kephart,” said Hargrave. “My grandfather, George S. Kephart, was his fifth child. He taught me that we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.”

Calling this film “something I simply had to do,” Hargrave said she considered many potential rewards from its production.

“I hope through the film, Kep's story reaches thousands of people,” she said.  “I hope to encourage people to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hike the beautiful trails, camp and embrace the ‘wonder and uniqueness that is the Smokies.’

“I also hope that people will visit Bryson City where Kep lived for 21-years,” she continued. “I hope they pay tribute to him by visiting his grave at Hillside Cemetery. I hope that people who are going through difficult times will embrace Kep's story of recovery through the love and support of family, friends.”
Award-winning documentarian Ken Burns, known the world over for films like “The Civil War,” “The National Park: America’s Best Idea,” and “Baseball,” to name a few of his projects, makes a guest appearance in Hargrave’s film to express his appreciation for the Pennsylvania native’s contributions.

“I think we owe the Great Smoky Mountains to Horace Kephart and his understanding of the healing power of wilderness,” said Burns, who included a piece of the Kephart story in his national park series of films.

Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is organizing the July showings in Bryson City. GSMA has made the film available at all National Park stores and on its website at The sale of the film supports education, research and preservation efforts being done today in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As a national park partner, GSMA has provided aid to the park of more than $34 million in the last 65 years.