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Making Grand National Glory

JJ Reich

Having written Turkey Country’s Turkey Calls column for the past five years, I can tell you the world of turkey calls offers endless article ideas. But one concept — telling the story of call makers on a quest to win gold at the NWTF Grand National Decorative Call Making Contest — seemed too big for the printed page. A full-length documentary was the only way.

A Real Indie

The only choice for a film about turkey calls was to go independent and produce the work outside of a major film studio system. Much like public television or radio, the expenses to produce this documentary are largely funded by cash donations from viewers who believe in the project. To make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.GrandNationalGlory.com, or email donations@GrandNationalGlory.com. All financial donors will be credited in the film for their support.

GrandNationalGlory.com also offers a video teaser of the film, plus shares other ways to support the project. There are opportunities for hunters and collectors to purchase calls from the film’s stars. And fellow call makers can donate one of their calls for auction, to raise funds.

The film’s release will be just before next year’s NWTF Convention and Sports Show in February 2014.

A Filmmaker’s Dream

Decorative turkey calls fascinate me. The creators need to be expert call makers and amazing artists. To help tell their story, I reached out to an old friend of mine, Jon Steinhorst, an independent filmmaker and educator.

Jon is not a turkey hunter. But as an artist, the idea immediately hooked him. In July 2012, we embarked on a journey to create Grand National Glory. The film follows three competitive carvers of decorative turkey calls as they craft their entries and participate in the 2013 NWTF Grand National Call Making Contest at the annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show in Nashville, Tenn.

“As an art, craft or folk art, decorative call making is a world that few people know about,” Steinhorst said. “Documentarians, like me, seek the privilege of entering the lives of real characters and situations with hopes of shining a light on lesser-known segments of society.”

Steinhorst was fascinated by decorative turkey calls, especially the surrounding subculture of turkey hunters, call makers and call collectors.

“The world of art speaks a universal language. True works of art can appeal to people of any age, race, gender and background,” he said. “Turkey hunters will appreciate this film because it celebrates hunting culture and heritage. Nonhunters will enjoy learning about turkey call making because of its roots in art.”

Callmaking Characters

Logistics and budget dictated how we selected call makers headquartered within an hour’s drive of our homes. When approached about the idea to be filmed in a documentary, all of these artisans jumped at the chance.

Steve Stortz is a 65-year-old rookie to the Grand National Call Making Contest. Although he has sold hundreds of turkey calls and his call making skills have been written about in several national magazines, 2013 marked the first year he competed.

“Most people have no understanding of turkey hunting, let alone turkey calls. Even in the turkey hunting world, many people don’t know about decorative call making,” said Stortz. “I think this film could open windows to many people about the art of call making.”

Experienced call maker Eric Rice started in call making competitions in 2012. In 2013, Rice went in strong with four decorative entries crafted on a much grander scale than his first year, plus four hunting class entries.

”This film will help the audience understand decorative call making is way more than just making a beautiful turkey call for a contest,” said Rice. ”My life and personal experiences get poured into every turkey call I make. I’ve exhausted my brain designing that call, held that call in my hands for hundreds of hours to create it, and crafted that call into a physical form of my imagination.”

Dave Constantine, ”The Grand Champ of Grand Nationals” is a long-time legendary carver who has won Best in Show honors many times at the annual NWTF event.

“I think our art form is on the cusp of discovery in the fine art world. Decorative call making absolutely needs a documentary,” Constantine said. “This is not a hunting video. The fresh approach goes far beyond the hunting world. The stories and the art will draw a wide audience.”

The Big Show

The documentary was filmed in the homes and workshops of each of the three call makers. They opened their doors and lives to the filmmakers, granting full access to their work, values, beliefs and daily routines as they prepared themselves, and their turkey calls, for “The Big Show.” The film culminates with the final contest results revealed in Nashville, Tennessee, at the 2013 NWTF Grand National Call Making Contest – the Super Bowl for decorative call makers.

Calls are judged for their ability to make turkey sounds, plus how beautifully they are carved, burned and/or painted. Call judges spend hours testing and evaluating before picking a winner. Then, all the calls go up for auction where serious collectors bid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to buy just one decorative call.

The film’s story line emphasizes the emotions that call makers face when they compete in callmaking contests. There are no scripts, acting or predetermined direction. It’s real life for these intriguing craftsmen – a truthful window into their worlds.

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