Monday, November 16, 2009


Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Short Documentary

Common Sense Films Releases New Short Doc

Award-Winning Filmmaker Releases Short Documentary For Cinema Prospérité Competition.

Common Sense Films, the Wilmington, North Carolina-based filmmakers behind the EMMY® nominated feature documentary “The Fort Fisher Hermit” has released its most recent documentary. “The Full Belly Project,” a five-minute documentary short directed by Rob Hill is about Jock Brandis’ efforts fighting hunger and extreme poverty. His trip to an African village in 2002 and a chance meeting with a village woman resulted in a breakthrough low-tech device, the Universal Nut Sheller. The Universal Nut Sheller is changing the lives of people in developing nations worldwide. What began as a repair to a village irrigation system turned into a synergistic approach to an invention which leading agricultural experts consider the “holy grail” of sustainable agriculture.

This short documentary has been submitted to the Cinema Prospérité competition. Cinema Prospérité is a film competition sponsored by the Social Equity Venture Fund and hosted by the non-profit organization SEVEN ( A grand prize of $20,000 will be awarded to the top-ranked video: $10,000 to the filmmaker, and $10,000 to the profiled entrepreneur. Fort more information about Cinema Prospérité visit them on the web at

“The Full Belly Project” can be viewed on the web at

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Encore Best of Wilmington ‘08: Best Independent Film Production

So some of our readers may be scratching their heads, wondering, Didn’t we already read this category last week? The answer: No. What they read was “Best Local Production,” which was initially designed to recognize a local TV show. Yet, this category brings in recognition for the lengthier film work that many partake locally. Of one of those folks is Rob Hill, who proudly worked on encore reader’s Best Independent Film Production, The Fort Fisher Hermit; the Life & Death of Robert E. Harrill.
“The Fort Fisher Hermit offers an absorbing and puzzling look into the life and the still-unsolved potential murder of ‘hermit’ Robert Harrill, a business and family man who, during the 1960s, chose to abandon the daily grind,” Hill explains of the film’s idea. “[He opted] for a solitary, spartan life in an old bunker near what is today the site of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.”
The story has become well-known locally, yet has also garnered a slew of recognition nationally, winning Best Feature Documentary at the Hollywood DV Festival, and taking a Judges Selection home from the NC Video and Film Festival. Locally, the folks behind the film are still spreading the hermit word.
“In an effort to inform and educate people about the Hermit’s life,” Hill explains, “we have worked with the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s educational department to offer aquarium visitors a program called The Fort Fisher Hermit’s School of Common Sense. Visitors can watch the film, then follow a guided tour through the coastal salt marsh to the Hermit’s bunker. The tour focuses on how the Hermit used the environment around him to survive. It gives participants a chance to experience life as a hermit while they try their luck fishing and crabbing in the same water’s as the Hermit.”
While many folks who met Harrill were “moved by the memories and emotions that this film brings back,” it remains a testament to the power of filmmaking—especially when hitting a topic of local value. “Others that have never heard of the Hermit’s story are fascinated,” Hill says. “Some are intrigued by how he survived and why he chose to live the life he did. Some are moved by the controversy surrounding his mysterious death. People are naturally drawn to this story. Maybe it’s an embedded urge to find a simpler life as the Hermit did, or maybe we relate to the inherent struggles that the Hermit over came in the face adversity. Whatever the reason, the Hermit has had an inexplicable connection with people. Some things never change. I hope this documentary will help people find a bit of the Hermit in themselves.”
Other independent film nominees were Super-Sam and Ding-a-ling-less.—Shea Carver

Common Sense and Mystery: The Curious story of the Fort Fisher Hermit - By Kate Sweeney - North Brunswick Magazine

Common Sense and Mystery: The Curious story of the Fort Fisher Hermit

By Kate Sweeney

Everyone is fascinated by a hermit. Since local filmmaker Rob Hill made his film, The Fort Fisher Hermit: The Life & Death of Robert E. Harrill, which details the life and mysterious death of the region’s legendary hermit, the movie has caught the attention of a lot of people. The Academy of Arts and Sciences recently nominated the documentary for a Mid-South Emmy. Major indie film distributor Cinetic Media has snapped up the digital rights. And if you missed the poignant documentary at the Cucalorus film festival in the fall 2004, perhaps you can catch it on the small screen beginning in March, when American Public Television plans its nationwide release.

The story compels and haunts. Here’s a man who jettisons everything—possessions, profession and indoor plumbing—to live, for 17 years, exposed to the elements on Fort Fisher’s scrubby landscape.

Even after seeing the film and talking to Hill in his pleasant, modern film studio on Princess Street, I wanted more. I wanted to understand better. I wanted to go to the bunker. So, on a brilliant morning in early fall, Hill and I hiked out together to the place Robert Harrill lived—and died.

To begin with, it’s hot. Nine-thirty in the morning and already the heat—unseasonable for October—is bearing down heavy through the muggy air. Ten minutes ago we were strolling the cool, other-worldly halls of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Now we’re pulling small burrs from our socks as we traipse through the salt marsh and maritime forest at the southern end of Fort Fisher. It’s wild country, the air swarming with mosquitoes and those small buzzing flies that hover around your ears. Wooden walkways caked with sand bridge the paths across estuaries thick with sedge grass between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic. There are deer, egrets and other wildlife—even tales of a black panther—that roam this marshland. What brings us to this untamed place, however, is the dwelling place of a man. After a 20 minute’s walk, our shirts are soaked through with sweat and our ankles are knobby with bug bites. We knew beforehand that this would be the case. We came anyway, or maybe because of this, like pilgrims, to see the bunker of the hermit.

There’s a tape recording from the 1960s in Hill’s documentary. The recording is of the hermit talking. He’s saying he can’t afford the high-priced insect repellent you buy in stores. "I mix kerosene oil, diesel oil and gasoline… and put a few spoonfuls of high-priced mosquito spray or repellent in it, and I get along pretty well," he says. One time, Hill tells me, the hermit slapped on some discarded military repellent before settling down to his fire for the evening. By the next morning, he had serious burns across his leathery chest, his arms and legs.

untamed place, however, is the dwelling place of a man. After a 20 minute’s walk, our shirts are soaked through with sweat and our ankles are knobby with bug bites. We knew beforehand that this would be the case. We came anyway, or maybe because of this, like pilgrims, to see the bunker of the hermit.

There’s a tape recording from the 1960s in Hill’s documentary. The recording is of the hermit talking. He’s saying he can’t afford the high-priced insect repellent you buy in stores. "I mix kerosene oil, diesel oil and gasoline… and put a few spoonfuls of high-priced mosquito spray or repellent in it, and I get along pretty well," he says. One time, Hill tells me, the hermit slapped on some discarded military repellent before settling down to his fire for the evening. By the next morning, he had serious burns across his leathery chest, his arms and legs.

Visitors made the drive down from Carolina Beach; they put some change in his small iron skillet and the hermit talked. He’d gesticulate wildly with his arms, speaking about current events, politicians and society’s "psychotic problems." He was writing a book, see. He had plans to open a school, right there at the bunker. It would be called the School of Common Sense, and it would be all about living simply.

He became The Hermit. Tourists visited even in the dead of winter and paid for a picture. For this, he removed his parka, hat and shirt and donned the trademark straw hat. They came, after all—and paid—for the true experience of the hermit who lived at the beach, and he made sure they left satisfied.

Robert Harrill didn’t spend his whole life a hermit. He was born in 1895 into a hardscrabble farming family in the South Carolina foothills. There’s talk of an abusive childhood, a troubled marriage and mental problems that led to stints in Broughten Mental Hospital in Morganton, North Carolina. In 1955, after a lifetime spent navigating storm-tossed relationships and fighting personal demons, Harrill came to Fort Fisher, at the southern tip of Carolina Beach.

On the sands of the scrubby salt marshland between the Cape and the Atlantic, about half a mile from where the fort’s ancient Confederate earthworks eroded silently away year by year, Robert Harrill knew of a World War II military bunker. He had visited the place with his wife and kids years ago, on vacations. At age 60 he returned for good. What must it have been like, walking through the sharp sedge grass alone, bearing every possession he intended to keep? What did he think as he entered for the first time the concrete bunker where he would live out the remainder of his life? The sands and the scrubland offer no clue.

In the late 1960s, the Fort Fisher Hermit was unofficially declared to be the region’s second most popular tourist attraction, after the Battleship North Carolina. Harrill had a guestbook. He kept it atop a rock and weighted its pages open with shells and stones. People visited once, twice, a dozen times. They brought him barbecue from their picnics, or beer and marshmallows. They spent the afternoon and evening around his fire. They went home and got married, had kids and told them about this old hermit they met years ago, as teenagers. Then the family went on vacation and the kids got to meet Harrill for themselves. Second-generation hermit fans.

One time, a wandering preacher came to see the hermit. Reverend Vaughn preached hellfire and brimstone and he rode a motorcycle. He and Harrill hit it off and the good Rev’ convinced the hermit to accompany him to the Kure Beach Pier, where, for an afternoon, they preached and lectured simultaneously: holy damnation and salvation from one mouth, common sense and oneness with the world from the other.

Robert Harrill played this part for the crowds, but he also lived it. That meant 17 years of 100-degree heat and 30-degree cold, and long winter weeks of seeing not one other soul. It meant subsisting on a mixture of the few odd groceries, picnic food brought by visitors, and the occasional seafood he caught. It also meant that he was subject to ill treatment by some. He said the summer’s nonstop tourist traffic exhausted him. He couldn’t control when people came, or who came. In his years at the bunker, the hermit, a man in his 60s and then 70s, was harassed, stolen from, knocked around, even kidnapped once. His makeshift home was trashed repeatedly by rowdies who came late at night. He had no telephone to call for help.

On the morning of June 3, 1972, Robert Harrill was found dead inside his bunker. His body was bruised, cut and fairly saturated with water and sand. A crime scene investigator found his sleeping bag bunched up in the nearby sedge grass, also plastered in sand. Also found was a set of tire tracks and a man’s wingtip loafer. No further investigation into his death was conducted.

Robert Harrill was buried in Shelby, North Carolina. In 1978, at the request of his son, his body was exhumed and examined, but by then the evidence had been destroyed, and he was re-buried near Carolina Beach. The real story of his death remains a mystery. When I asked Hill about this, the filmmaker shrugged and said, "It was never the intention of my film to uncover who killed the hermit. You know?" He paused and leaned in. "Okay, okay." Gave me a look. "I like living in Wilmington."

Just as compelling as questions of his end are those of Robert Harrill’s life itself. The bunker still stands, four slabs of concrete smaller than one of those driveway storage units, so very alone out there in the marshland near Fort Fisher. You stand before it and you have to wonder: Why did a man choose to live here for close to two decades? Many people who got to know him say that Harrill found his calling here, that he found himself. What that means, though, is less than clear, out here under the heavy sun, the bunker nearly overrun with inhospitable flora. There is only the buzzing of flies, only the roar of the ocean in this place that’s otherwise again grown silent as the grassy earthworks nearby.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

'Fort Fisher Hermit' not forgotten By Amy Hotz FEB. 2, 2008

'Fort Fisher Hermit' not forgotten
By Amy Hotz
Staff Writer

The 217-year-old Newton Graveyard sits back in the woods, away from the noise of River Road. To get there, you have to park your car on the sandy shoulder of the road, duck under a gate and walk a few yards down a leaf-strewn dirt road.

The graveyard was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 because a family of early boat captains is buried there. But one grave there doesn't seem to belong. A fitting observation since the man buried there, even in life, didn't seem to fit in with the world around him.

The granite stone reads, "Robert E. Harrill. The Fort Fisher Hermit. He made people think. Feb. 2, 1893 - June 4, 1976."

Harrill was born 115 years ago today. In his day, the hermit lived in an old bunker at Fort Fisher and subsisted off the land and ocean. As a child, he'd always sought solace in nature. As an adult - suffering through a bad marriage and the suicide of his eldest son - he shunned the material world and kept his life simple. People found this fascinating. They traveled from all over the world and traded money or food in exchange for his philosophies.

Now, visitors carry odd little things down that dirt road and place them on the old man's grave. It's outlined in large whelk shells. Cockles, oyster shells and a piece of what looks like petrified wood are sprinkled within its 5-foot confine. A small turtle shell is turned up beside a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. A metal bowl painted in blue enamel, like the one kids take on camping trips, also has its place on the grave. Someone, not so long ago it seems, carefully placed a small bunch of plastic flowers tied with a bit of straw by the headstone.

It's a simple monument to a simple man. And it makes you think.

Amy Hotz; 343-2099

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Happy Birthday Hermit

The Fort Fisher Hermit once said, "I was born on Groundhog Day and I've been trying to hibernate ever since".

Friday, January 04, 2008

"The Fort Fisher" RECEIVES EMMY NOD.

The Nashville/Midsouth Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) announced the nominations for the 22nd Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy® Awards at a cocktail reception November 16 at BMI’s Nashville headquarters.

Common Sense Films, the Wilmington, North Carolina-based film and television production company, received a nomination in the category of historical documentary for their documentary feature, The Fort Fisher Hermit: The Life & Death of Robert E. Harrill.

Harrill, better known as “The Fort Fisher Hermit,” lived off the land supplemented by contributions from his many coastal North Carolina visitors over a period of 17 years, first arriving at Fort Fisher in 1955. By the late 1960s he had unofficially become North Carolina’s second most popular tourist attraction. Over 100,000 tourists lined up to hear his philosophies on life at his "School of Common Sense," all from the abandoned Army ammunitions bunker he called “home.”

Narrated by actor Barry Corbin, the film explores the human behind “The Hermit” persona, from his tumultuous origins to his mysterious and still-unsolved death. The hour-long documentary premiered in May on UNC-TV, North Carolina’s public television network, and will be nationally distributed by American Public Television library in April of 2008.

Inspired by the film, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has developed “The Fort Fisher Hermit’s School of Common Sense.” This environmental education program begins with a screening of the film and ends at the salt marsh, where participants are provided fishing gear and encouraged to try their hand at living like “The Hermit,” all the while learning about the local environment.

Along the way there is a stop at the “Hermit Bunker” where the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, a division of the North Carolina State Park System, recently erected two large placards about the life of Robert Harrill and the years he lived there. Today, the bunker has become a permanent exhibit and sits along a stretch of hiking trails that allow visitors to travel through the beautiful undeveloped beach and marshes between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.

“Most times you do a film and even if you are fortunate for it to find an audience, it is usually judged in terms of its financial success, or lack thereof,” said the film’s director, Rob Hill. “It’s very rewarding to have been involved in a project that has had such a social and educational impact. That’s pretty rare.”
More than 700 entries resulted in nominations for 58 stations and companies in 70 categories. Entries under consideration by the Midsouth Chapter were reviewed and nominated by members from NATAS’s Mid-America Chapter in Chicago and Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter in Phoenix. The awards ceremony will be held on January 26, 2008 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.

Executive Producer Richard Sirianni reports that DVD sales of the film have been gradually increasing via, the division of Lynx creator Robert Young’s Red Hat that has pioneered the area of self-publishing. Starting out with books, moved into DVD distribution with The Fort Fisher Hermit, which has proved to be a classic example of artists controlling and distributing their own works.

Recently, Common Sense Films entered into a non-exclusive licensing agreement with IMOOVIE.COM. The New York-based Internet DVD distributor carries well-known independent feature film and documentary titles.

Separately, Sirianni’s Mulberry Street Entertainment is shopping a feature film version inspired by the Harrill story from a script by Wilmington writer and educator Anne Russell. Russell and Fred Pickler of the Fisher Film Corporation will serve as Executive Producers.

Common Sense Films is currently in production on The Appropriate Genius, a feature-length documentary about Jock Brandis and the Fully Belly Project’s efforts combating extreme poverty and hunger. The Full Belly Project is a nonprofit organization that Brandis formed with a group of returning Peace Corp members.

Brandis, a career film and television industry electrician, was honored with the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Technology award in 2006. In 2000, as part of an effort to help villagers in Mali, Africa Brandis develop a more efficient manner to shell peanuts by creating a simple hand-cranked peanut sheller using concrete and scrap metal. This led to a pedal-powered version and further modifications. Today, Brandis’ “universal sheller” is a key component in the movement to utilize appropriate technology to assist developing nations. The “universal sheller” can be used to process a wide range of agricultural products from shea nuts to coffee, all without modern conveniences such as electricity.

Other entities involved in assisting the development of rural agriculture in impoverished nations, include Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Village and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both groups have embraced the efforts of the Full Belly Project. Recently, Brandis and Full Belly have collaborated the internationally recognized organization Meds and Food for Kids in Haiti, where the universal sheller will be used for the purpose of creating a peanut based “Ready to Use Therapeutic Food” (R.U.T.F), whose medicinal qualities are used to combat the widespread malnutrition that exists in the country. The first Fully Belly production facility was recently established in Uganda.

With one additional year of production remaining, the filmmakers will have documented Brandis’ travels to Uganda, the Sudan, Kenya, the Philippines, Haiti, Guatemala, and Guyana, as well as to the United Nations and M.I.T. Along the way they have encountered such notable personalities as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (on camera working the peanut sheller) and space travel inventor Burt Rutan.

The International Documentary Association (IDA), a nonprofit filmmaker support group based in Los Angeles has signed on as the film’s 501c fiscal sponsor. This has allowed Common Sense Films to take a unique approach to fundraising; securing the services of friends and family, philanthropists, patrons of the arts and those involved in humanitarian efforts to host a series of intimate dinner parties. Fundraising events have been held in North Carolina, with additional opportunities being planned for Colorado, New Mexico and California.

To learn more about The Fort Fisher Hermit: The Life & Death of Robert E. Harrill or The Appropriate Genius, you may visit and

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Visiting the Bunker: Freshest Impressions

It's one thing to see The Fort Fisher Hermit and have a basic understanding of the life and death of Robert Harrill. It's an entirely different sort of animal to spend a Wednesday morning under the oppressive August sun where the man actually lived, pretending for just a few hours to be a survivalist. The Fort Fisher Hermit's School of Common Sense, named in honor of the school that Harrill dreamed to create with the revenue from his unfinished book A Tyrant in Every Home, offers any fan of the hermit the chance to explore the same marsh paths that Harrill once walked.

We all have a respect for the hermit before the tour (some of it, for those who met the man, less distant than those like me who came across him in a second-hand sort of way); that much is given because we're lined up outside the Fort Fisher Aquarium at ten minutes to 8 a.m. ready to watch Rob Hill's film and do God-knows-what-else in the dunes behind the museum. What we don't yet know is that our entire understanding of the man is about to be reconstructed; we will see the bunker, feel the hordes of mosquitoes, sweat through our shirts due to the sheer brutality of the unfiltered sun, and climb knee-deep into the muck of the marsh so that we can try to "feed" ourselves. By the end of the morning, we've seen two snakes, caught three puny crabs at the expense of most of our bait (why we don't just "eat" the bait-fish I'll never understand), and had one of our fellow hermits give up.

This is not the life we've been raised to lead.

At most, we spent two hours with nature (obviously, this does not include the 54 minutes we spent in an air-conditioned theater watching the documentary). Now, I'm not a nature person, but I'm not entirely a shut-in either. I've had my share of rainy canoe adventures and early morning horseback rides. The point is that two hours out there was enough for me to say, "O.K., I get it. Let's stop at Britt's Donuts on the way home."

I'll wrap this up now, but check back soon for something a little more concrete about the actual hike and all. Information here for dates, admission, etc. (fyi, the hike alone is $10, $18 w/ admission to the aquarium included).