The most famous story — equal parts fact and legend, some say — to ever come out of Wilkes County is getting a cinematic reboot next year.
A feature film called “Laura” is currently in the fundraising stage of preproduction. The creative team behind it is calling it a “historical romance/mystery film based on the true story behind the legend of Tom Dooley.”
Tom Dooley, as most Wilkes residents are well aware, is the onomatopoeic spelling of Tom Dula, the former Confederate soldier from Ferguson who was hung in 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster. Whether or not Dula—or Anne Melton, the third spoke of the love triangle—was guilty of the crime is a mystery to this day.
To date there has been just one feature-length film on Dula’s plight: “The Legend of Tom Dooley,” a 1959 western starring Michael Landon. It was based on Thomas Land’s original folk song, which had been “inspired” by the real-life incident, so that basically means the movies bears little resemblance to the facts of the Dula case.
“Laura” purports to be more true to the historical roots of Tom Dooley. The film’s tagline informs that the story is told from Laura’s perspective over the last week of her ill-fated life.
I believe a movie is only as good as its actors, and the good news is that “Laura” has so far attracted a solid cast. The pivotal title role will be played by Carrie Anne Hunt, a Columbia, S.C., native who has done extensive period work on stage and screen. She had supporting roles in the feature films “The Beach House” (2018) and “Magic Mike XXL” (2015).
Melton will be played by Joanna Lower, a Christian singer-songwriter who plays the antagonist in a forthcoming Christian feature film called “The Renegade.” Portraying Dooley will be Jake Collison, a resident of Charlotte with numerous shorts and commercials on his resumé.
The film is the brainchild of the late Charles Soots, a native of Caldwell County, who was encouraged by the late Edith Ferguson Carter, founder of the historic Whippoorwill Academy & Village in Ferguson, to do a film project on Dula. With encouragement from Carter, the seed was planted to do a film project.
Soots passed away on Aug. 23, but carrying the torch now for “Laura” is director/co-writer Steven Hancock, a Greensboro native and High Point resident who works in the Guilford County schools. He and a co-writer of the film, J.D. Mayo, collaborated on the 2017 Civil War-era drama short “Our War,” which was set in rural North Carolina.
The teaser trailer reveals very little about the nuts and bolts of the film, which is understandable for a 44-second clip, but Collison says off-screen, “I swear I never harmed a hair on her head, but I deserve what I get,” the famous proclamation made by Dula during his murder trial in Statesville.
Hunt as Laura then adds, in voice over, “I knew it was fate that brought us together. Tom Dooley had my whole heart. One day I was walking towards him, and then, I was gone.” The final word is uttered as a candle’s flame is extinguished by a wisp of wind.
The arresting visuals of the teaser trailer lead me to believe this will be a very professional project with strong production values from Triad-based Gladio Veritas Entertainment. Gladio veritas means “the sword of truth” in Latin.
Hancock started a crowdsourcing campaign on Oct. 5, and nine days later the goal of $1,000 had already been exceeded. The funds were used on Monday to shoot a three-minute “proof of concept” short at the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum in Boone.
To contribute to the campaign, or to learn more about the film, visit https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/laura-feature-film?fbclid=IwAR2xq-8HpSaoVknzz6bVB_jv8o7WsO75sjopVRER3OU3xK7S9g0n5R_zX-Q — story.
The producers have stated their desire to shoot the feature film in historic Happy Valley, the Yadkin River bottomland running along N.C. 268 in Caldwell and Wilkes counties. Filming on or near where the Dula story unfolded will “add further authenticity to the project, and allow us to film some of the most beautiful scenery in North Carolina,” according to Hancock.
The Tom Dula/Dooley story is a tale told oft in countless mediums, but I’m hoping “Laura” will be a fresh cinematic take on the famous narrative born here in Wilkes.