Summerville native Maria White's short film, "The Debutante Hunters," has grasped one of independent filmmaking's most coveted grails: acceptance in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, which unspools Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah.

Sundance selected "The Debutante Hunters" as one of only 64 short films out of the more than 7,000 submitted, according to Mount Pleasant-based film and TV publicist Cara White.

An S.C. Film Commission Indie Grant recipient, the short was filmed entirely on location in the Lowcountry with Trident Technical College students serving on the crew. White, together with 17 cast and crew members, will attend the multiple screenings of their movie.

"Taking a film to Sundance has been a dream of mine and my husband/producing partner, Matthew (Mebane), for some time," says White, a Los Angeles resident and sister of actress-filmmaker Vanessa White. "But I could not have made this film without the Indie Grants. We're just all so excited that we get to take this documentary and share South Carolina stories, locations and culture on such a huge stage."

"The Debutante Hunters" focuses on a group of Southern belles who "reveal their rugged side, showcasing their skills as they hunt off the land and dismantle stereotypes in the process."

Handed down

Representing a long-standing if seldom publicized Americantradition, the women are part of families where hunting is handed down from generation to generation. The idea for a documentary was sparked by White's longtime friend and Summerville High School classmate, Kristy Olson Cuthbert.

"Like the other women in the film, Kristy had been hunting since she was 5," says White, who premiered the movie in June at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

"Though I had grown up around it, I was never involved in hunting. I seriously doubt I could go into the woods and shoot something. But these women exploded a number of old stereotypes and acquainted me with the fact that for many hunters, there is a reverence for the animals they pursue."

In an era when most Americans are at a too-comfortable remove from the food they consume, White says she hopes the film will alter perceptions and encourage viewers to be more aware of precisely where their food comes from.

"In the last five to six years, Kristy had really gotten into turkey hunting and started giving me food from her kill, like venison, for Christmas gifts. She also started wearing jewelry her husband had made from things like turkey spurs."

White became intrigued, asking Cuthbert to describe a typical hunt. A year and a half ago, White asked to join on one. It became several.

"It was a life-changing experience for me, watching the woods wake up in the morning and seeing her go through this ritual," White recalls. "While there is also a dark side to hunting, this definitely changed my perspective on it and how we take so much for granted."

Huntress gallery

Apart from Cuthbert, depicted in the film are Beverly Mebane Helms, Kacey Bates Patrick, Sara Frampton and Susan Frampton.

"One of the women works in a bank, another cuts hair, a third is balancing work and children: They come from varied walks of life. But they all demonstrate the tremendous patience needed in order to hunt. Watching them, I just got more and more interested, and thought there was a story in it. I started learning about different methods of hunting and different kinds of game. I was amazed at this lifestyle and this culture, how everything is passed down through the generations.

"My main goal in shooting the film was to tell these women's stories."

White, who gave birth to her first child shortly after completing the film, is working on three new feature-length projects: a comedy called "Fast Cars and Babies," "Taxi Dancer" and the thriller "Lowcountry," to be written and directed by her husband.

"We hope to shoot it in South Carolina this year," she says.

Currently in its second year, the Indie Grant program was established to help develop collaborative projects in film, video and multimedia between professionals in the motion picture and related industries and institutions of higher learning in South Carolina.

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