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Carolina in Her Mind

What originally sparked your interest in Carolina?

I love place names and Carolina is named after a woman. How many towns do you know are named after women? Carolina was the wife of the mill’s founder, Rowland Hazard. Also, I loved his character. He took on the institution of slavery in New Orleans and in the north he took on corporate railroad power, despite all the things he might lose including his business and his credibility. He decided to act and change these things. Then there was John Quinn, who is a founder of USA Today and bought the mill in 1970. How is Carolina different than other mill towns? It’s a village like many others and a little too far away from any major cities, about 45 minutes from Providence. It’s really small; you can drive through it in less than a minute. Throughout its history, Carolina was blessed by having people who could see that the world could be a better place. Most mill towns are built on the notion that there was enough water to create a business. Carolina was built on the same principle plus “let’s make this a really good place to live.”

How is Carolina different than other mill towns?

It’s a village like many others and a little too far away from any major cities, about 45 minutes from Providence. It’s really small; you can drive through it in less than a minute. Throughout its history, Carolina was blessed by having people who could see that the world could be a better place. Most mill towns are built on the notion that there was enough water to create a business. Carolina was built on the same principle plus “let’s make this a really good place to live.”

How was it a good place to live?

Carolina is designed so that you work in one spot and then you live in another section of town, away from the mill. In the 1840s, the Hazards created a school for the workers at a time when school wasn’t available. They moved a church to town. You could encounter cultural organizations like debating teams. In the 1880s, there were debates around these topics: “Should the female pronoun be included in the state constitution?” and “Should America participate in wars in other countries?”

Even though the film is made, you’re continuing to hear Carolina’s stories, right?

When most documentaries are made, they’re like sealed documents. I wanted to have a different model. I did this film with the premise that everybody has a story. I was able to pick up some of them, but certainly not all of them. I developed the film’s Web site so that residents of Carolina can add their own stories.

How did the town residents view you?

Summer people in a town like this are regarded as outsiders. Now I’m regarded as the summer lady who made a film about them. I’m a lot more popular now, but I’m not an insider.

-by Ilana Polyak