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Childhood with circus prompts filmmaker to make movie

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó Michael Knox, 35, lived with the circus as a child. For several summers in elementary school, Knox traveled with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus, riding elephants, helping put up tents and making cotton candy.
His family worked for the circus, serving in every position from welder to clown.
When Knox learned that the circus was in danger of closing, he did what he could to help save it.
He made a movie.
“This was the best part of my childhood,” said Knox, an Asheville filmmaker.
His first full-length feature film, a documentary called “Tearing Down the Tent,” will debut at the Modern Film Fest at the Gem Theatre in downtown Kannapolis.
Knox’s film will screen at 7 p.m. Sept. 25.
The film festival, the brainchild of Knox and co-director Ben McNeely, will offer 15 films in three days.
From Sept. 25 to 27, the event will take over the historic Gem Theatre near the N.C. Research Campus, featuring films as varied as the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the star-studded “Gigantic” and the animated online hit, “Sita Sings the Blues.”
“The line-up of films is very diverse,” Gem Theatre owner Steve Morris said. “They’ve got something that will appeal to a broad range of the community.”
Morris said he enthusiastically agreed to host the festival.
“As our community becomes more diverse and a lot of new folks are coming in with the Research Campus, this is a great way to offer something a little bit different,” he said.
The festival kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday with “Sons of Cuba,” but “Gigantic,” starring Ed Asner, John Goodman and Jane Alexander, likely will draw the bigger crowd at 9 p.m.
A zombie costume contest begins at 10 p.m. Friday in front of the Gem in preparation for the 11 p.m. screening of the original version of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
The best dressed zombies will win free tickets to the entire festival. Tickets cost $4 per film or $42 for the whole weekend.
Saturday will feature free admission for veterans to the noon screening of “The Way We Get By,” a tear-jerker about three senior citizens who have greeted more than 900,000 returning troops at the Bangor International Airport in Maine.
“It’s a touching story, and it seems to be getting a lot of momentum all around the country,” Morris said.
A free panel discussion on the Charlotte area film industry begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Core Laboratory Building on the Research Campus.
Throughout the festival, which runs until the final 9 p.m. Sept. 27 screening of “Heart of Fire (Feuerherz),” the City of Kannapolis will host bands in between films in Veterans Park, across the street from the theatre.
The Research Campus will host a gala reception at Restaurant 46, next door to the Gem, immediately following the 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26 screening of “Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes.”
Gala tickets cost $25 each and include meeting and mingling with the regional film community, hors d’oeuvres and complimentary house wines and beers.
Festival organizers, who are all volunteers, had to find a way to retrofit the 1936 movie theatre for a digital projector and soundboard, Knox said. City staff provided valuable expertise and equipment, he said.
“We couldn’t do this festival without the City of Kannapolis,” he said. “The way people have embraced this is great.”
Knox appears briefly in his circus film, which follows friend Jamie Reel as he joins the circus for the first time.
Reel works alongside performers and vendors, doing everything from shoveling animal dung and dressing as a clown to surviving the Motor Globe of Death while a motorcycle races around his head at 35 mph.
The movie was filmed in Wilmington over a week. Knox said he hopes the publicity from the movie will help save the circus he loved as a child, now called Cole Bros.
As for the film festival, he’s moved on.
“We’re already talking about what we can do better next year,” Knox said.

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