MILLEDGEVILLE — Byron Hurt’s parents grew up in Milledgeville when traditionally-prepared soul foods like candied yams coated with cinnamon and brown sugar, fried fish and buttered biscuits smothered in gravy was, and still are, an important part of the cuisine in the American south. As an adult, Hurt’s growing concern for the health of his overweight father, Jackie, prompted him to confront him on his bad eating habits, but it was too late. In 2004, doctors diagnosed Jackie with pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Byron, a Long Island native and now award-winning documentary filmmaker, hopes to bring awareness to the nutrition-related illness as he takes audiences through his historical and culinary journey in his documentary “Soul Food Junkies.”
“People in Milledgeville love soul food. There’s a strong tradition of soul food cuisine, not only in African Americans, but whites as well; every cultural background can appreciate really good down-home soul food cooking,” Byron said. “The film takes a look at the tradition of soul food and challenges us to take a deeper look at the way we prepare our soul food.”
“Soul Food Junkies” explores the health advantages and disadvantages of soul food, through candid interviews with soul food cooks, historians, scholars, doctors, family members and everyday people. The film is critically acclaimed and won the CNN Best Documentary award at the American Black Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. “Soul Food Junkies” made its national television premiere on PBS' Emmy award-winning series, Independent Lens in January 2013.
“I shot a portion of the film in Milledgeville, including an interview with my uncle Tony Hurt, Sr. and his wife Mary, and it also features a quick shot of my larger family during Thanksgiving,” Byron said. “The film is really a personal story of my love for my father and desire for my father to change his eating habits so he can live a long life. Everyone has a family member that they love and care for deeply who may be struggling with some kind of health issue; it’s something that transcends culture, race and class.”
As Byron is currently touring the country and playing the film in front of large audiences, he is receiving rave reviews and hopes to make an impact in the Milledgeville community during a screening of “Soul Food Junkies” at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22 in Georgia College’s Arts & Science Auditorium. The film screening is sponsored by the Georgia College Male Initiative, Live Healthy Baldwin and Campus Club Milledgeville. The showing is free and open to the community. After the film, Hurt will be available during a question and answer session.
“People will be surprised of how entertaining this film is. It’s a film for everyone, so you can bring your children to the screening,” he said. “I want the audience to be inspired by the film. I hope they walk away feeling like they’re ready to make changes in their lifestyle and get more exercise so they can live a healthier life.”
Byron is also a published writer, anti-sexist activist and lecturer. He is the former host of the Emmy-nominated series, “Reel Works with Byron Hurt.” His most popular documentary, “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.
His work has been featured on several media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, O Magazine, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Access Hollywood, NPR, MTV, BET, ABC News Tonight and many other outlets.
The former Northeastern University football quarterback was also a founding member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading college-based rape and domestic violence prevention initiative for college and professional athletics. Hurt also served as an associate director of the first gender violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps.
“While at Northeastern, I made my first documentary as a college senior called ‘Moving Memories: The Black Senior Video Yearbook.’ It was about the trials and tribulations of being African American in a predominately white campus. It premiered in front of a large audience on the college campus, and people laughed, cried and they were moved emotionally,” he recalled. “It was an euphoric experience to come up with an idea and translate it onto the screen; I found that exciting, nerve-racking, fun and tedious; I fell in love with the process of making films. It’s been an up and down journey for me since, but I’ve been very blessed to have the success I’ve had to be an independent filmmaker.”
Byron is currently in the midst of working on his next film project titled “Hazing: How Badly Do You Want In?” As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, he admits to hazing and being hazed, the dangerous practice of initiating new members into Greek letter organizations and other groups. He was inspired to make the film by the story of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M University drum major who was killed in a hazing incident in 2011. The film is partially funded by MacArthur Foundation and Firelight Media.
For more information about Byron, his films, or his upcoming visit to Georgia College, visit www.bhurt.com, or like the Soul Food Junkies Facebook page.