The Rise and Fall of Liberty

Durham, North Carolina | Film Feature


Carol Thomson

1 Campaigns | North Carolina, United States

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When developers demolish an iconic tobacco auction house in the name of revitalization, they not only displace a community of artists, they also threaten the soul of the community. Just whom is this “progress” for?

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The Story

In the southern city of Durham, North Carolina, repurposed tobacco factories are a reminder that Durham was built on tobacco. As such, Durham was a significant market for tobacco auctions, yet none of the numerous auction houses now remain. By 1990, there was only one left—the Liberty Warehouse. It hadfound a second life as a home for metal artists, non-profits, and a creative reuse arts center. All that changed in 2011 when the roof collapsed during a rain storm. The tenants were evicted and Liberty’s future was in jeopardy.


Starting in the late 1880s, Durham experienced a boom and bust cycle from tobacco. After the 1980s, when the tobacco auctions finally ceased, downtown died. In the name of urban renewal, half of the buildings had already been torn down, and what was once a thriving center became known for its high crime rate.Inthe past ten years, however, Durham has transformed, and is now experiencing another boom largely driven by tech startups.


Liberty Warehouse was at the forefront of the current revitalization. And like many communities, it started with artists. The only foundry in the south, where artists cast metal works of art, was built onto a corner of Liberty. Central Park, a grassroots effort that is now home to a popular farmer’s market and open green space, was created adjacent to Liberty. Restaurants and theaters began to flourish in the neighborhood. Durham was getting its mojo back and it was an exciting place to be. Developers took note. 


After the roof collapsed, Liberty Warehouse was demolished to make way for a jumbo-sized apartment building. Small businesses, not able to afford the rising rents, were forced to leave while new tech startups pour in. But who is this new Durham for?  


The Rise and Fall of Liberty examines the ebb and flow of Liberty's 80-year lifespan, draws parallels with the evolution of downtown Durham, and reveals the often touching, interdependent relationship between the two. It also raises key questions about the tension between the drive for progress and the character of a city—a city which could be your city.


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Please note: because of our 501c3 fiscal sponsorship from The Southern Documentary Fund, every contribution made to The Rise and Fall of Liberty is tax deductible.


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Music Licensing

Costs $1,000

Music sets the emotional tone of the film. We need to secure the rights of songs from Piedmont Blues artists and local musicians.

Sound Mixing

Costs $6,000

Good sound is crucial to a good story. A professional sound mix will create a rich soundscape throughout the film.

Color Correction

Costs $4,000

We have footage spanning decades from various formats. It looks really good, but we want it to look great!

Graphic Design

Costs $2,500

We need a graphic designer to create titles and motion graphics to complete the edit.


Costs $1,500

Festival submissions add up. Help us get the film out to audiences across the US.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

Director/Producer: Carol Thomson is an independent multimedia documentary producer and a web developer based in downtown Durham. She is the recipient of the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Award for her interactive documentary, Bridging Rails to Trails: Stories of the American Tobacco Trail. She received a Gracie Award for American Women in Radio and Television for the short video, HAND – Health Arts Network at Duke. Carol also teaches at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.


Editor: Jim Havekamp is an award-winning filmmaker and editor based in Durham. He has worked as an editor on several feature documentaries, including RarefiedMonster RoadDoubletime, and Dancing with the Goddess. His filmmaking credits include the short films When Walt Whitman Was a Little Girl, It Had Wings, and Hot Dog Man: A Case Study. Jim teaches courses in editing and moving image practice for Duke University’s Program in the Arts of the Moving Image and short form video production at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.


Camera: Randy Benson is a graduate of Wake Forest University and of the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking. His film Man and Dog has appeared in 18 film festivals in seven countries and has garnered numerous awards, most notably a Gold Medal in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Student Academy Awards. He also received an Eastman Kodak Excellence in Filmmaking Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Randy teaches at The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Current Team