The Helen Spence Project

The Helen Spence Project, a documentary film about a river girl from the Delta who became a folk hero, invites you to join Team Helen!

Beverly Denise
Modern Media
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Project Ends on December 31, 2018

Project Description

  • The mission of the Helen Spence Project is to produce a film equal to its subject matter: the life story of brave river girl Helen Spence, adapted from my book Daughter of the White River (History Press, 2013; New Edition, 2018). Helen Spence avenged her father's murder, only to face corrupt Arkansas prison officials. No prison could hold her! 
Helen Spence is pictured with Buster Eaton, a bootlegger to whom she was briefly married
  • This project seeks to correct a historic omission by reclaiming the lost history of the Delta's River People, a multiethnic community of houseboat families. My ancestors were River People, and to this day the pejorative "River Rats" is used to degrade a sustainable culture in harmony with Nature. Helen Spence is a folk hero to the River People of the Arkansas Delta and deserves her place in history. Her life story is one of courage and inspiration.
Lilie Lim portrays teenage heroine Helen Spence, the Avenging Angel of the White River
  • This documentary film is slated for debut in 2019 at the 28th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and will benefit from the HSDFF's status as an Academy qualifying documentary festival.

 

Photography by Julie Williams; design by Abe Neyland, Hot Springs Life & Home magazine, September 2018 Issue

 

  • The Helen Spence Project grew out of the book Daughter of the White River to include a grant-funded touring exhibit of rare historic photographs. The Dayton Bowers archive catalogs Delta life circa 1880-1924 and features two portraits of Helen Spence. Together with the film, these interrelated media projects portray the beauty and mystery of the Delta's River People. River People live by a code: River Justice.
Dayton Bowers photograph circa 1916 of Helen Spence with her father, Cicero Spence, and children of the River
  • I am seeking funding to complete filming for this project and to allow the best editing process possible for our team. Like many River People, my family lost everything, including our ancestral home, when government dam projects forced River People off the Lower White River. I am also writing grants and hosting fundraisers to complete this film. 
Our first day of filming (July 2018) at one of the last remaining houseboats on the White River at Clarendon, Helen's birthplace
  • Our team includes Markham Park Studio of Little Rock, Arkansas, a cooperative of professional filmmakers committed to historic and cultural subjects. Our director, Julia Elizabeth Evans, is a native Arkansan, as are all of our team members. Original music for the film is provided by Arkansas artists, including SJ Tucker and Still on the Hill. We are united by a desire to portray the beauty and depth of an unknown element of Arkansas history.
Filming in the same cypress grove where my family's houseboat once stood 50 years ago
  • Our backers include: The Morris Foundation of Arkansas, a longstanding organization supporting Arkansas artists and educators since 1986; the Hot Springs Development Foundation, our fiscal sponsor located in historic Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas; and Hot Springs Life & Home magazine, our media sponsor. We are grateful for the support of our local organizations!

 

White River Houseboat at Clarendon, Arkansas, February 2018

 

    • Our team is working to continue filming on location throughout the Delta. We have support of local communities, including filming on White River houseboats and interviewing River People in their element. This living history project is an outgrowth of two decades of research and part of an ongoing effort to clear the name of Helen Spence.

The Project FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • Who is Helen Spence? Helen Spence (1912-1934) is a historical figure from Arkansas's Lower White River houseboat culture. A beautiful, beloved and talented teenager, she avenged her father's death only to face cruel and unusual punishment. Helen Spence's murder at the hands of corrupt prison officials was reported widely in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other news organizations, yet she was forgotten by all but the River People. This project will correct the record of her courageous life and unjust death.
  • Who are the River People? The River People of the Arkansas Delta are a little-known houseboat culture that thrived for more than a century, until federal dam projects caused the eviction of houseboat communities from the Lower White River. Called "River Rats" by outsiders to this very day, the history of the River People deserves a place in the American lexicon.

 

 

BJ
10/04/2018
Monetary Contribution
$10
$2,000
Team Helen Associate Producer

Team Helen supporters who donate $2,000 or more will be listed in the documentary film credits as Associate Producers.

  • You will also receive a signed copy of Daughter of the White River (History Press, 2013, New Edition 2018).  
  • You will also receive a genuine Arkansas Quartz Crystal from the Ouachita Mountains of the Natural State!
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Rewards

$2,000
Team Helen Associate Producer

Team Helen supporters who donate $2,000 or more will be listed in the documentary film credits as Associate Producers.

  • You will also receive a signed copy of Daughter of the White River (History Press, 2013, New Edition 2018).  
  • You will also receive a genuine Arkansas Quartz Crystal from the Ouachita Mountains of the Natural State!
10 Left
0 Supporters
Select this reward