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UNC student documents White Lake history

Robert Kinlaw's documentary will be shown on UNC-TV Thursday

Robert Kinlaw poses outside his house in White Lake, North Carolina.

Robert Kinlaw poses outside his house in White Lake, North Carolina.

His parents met at the lake as teenagers, started dating there and eventually settled in the same house they live in today when Kinlaw was three years old.

Kinlaw was born in Fayetteville but said he doesn’t remember life anywhere other than in White Lake.

He’s bringing that life to the screen tonight, as his documentary, “White Lake: Remembering the Nation’s Safest Beach,” premiers on UNC-TV at 10:15 p.m.

Kinlaw started to consider making a documentary during his junior year of high school. Since he already knew some of his small hometown’s history, he decided to set his film right in his backyard. Kinlaw conducted countless interviews with residents on the town in hopes of painting a fuller picture of the town’s history.

“There’s a lot of history passed down through families, but nobody had ever recorded everything and said for the history books, ‘Here are the details of what happened,’” Kinlaw said.

“There are newspaper clippings, different stories from people and hearsay, but I thought I would love to make it into a cohesive narrative.”

As it turns out, documenting the generation-spanning history of an entire town is no easy task. Kinlaw finished his final edit of the movie during spring semester of his freshman year at UNC, completing a two-year process. But according to Robert’s mother Cathy Kinlaw, her son’s first full film has been a long time coming.

“Robert has always been interested in filmmaking for as long as I can remember,” she said.

“Even when he was a young child, he would make up stories and invite his friends to play characters in them and film them, so honestly, I think the documentary was inevitable.”

According to Kinlaw and his family, the tight-knit town has responded to the documentary enthusiastically. And while Kinlaw has sold many copies of his film on his own to residents and those passing through White Lake, he is eager to share the story with a broader audience through UNC-TV. Kinlaw thinks the story of White Lake appeals to viewers — and beachgoers — of all ages.

“White Lake is a timeless place. It’s a common place where young kids can go swimming and have a great time, and where teenagers can go on the boat and wakeboard,” Kinlaw said.

“Adults can bring their kids and have fun, and a 60-year-old man can also just relax and have a nice time. It’s a universal place where anyone can enjoy themselves.”

For Tommy Faircloth, Kinlaw’s uncle and a former professional water skier featured in the documentary, the film is an excellent window into White Lake’s vibrant, storied past.

“The best part of the whole documentary for me is watching people when they see this thing. It brings up such good memories and wide smiles for folks,” Faircloth said.

“It was a golden age to be down at the lake participating in this moment in history. Things change, times change, but seeing it come back to life in the documentary brought back a lot of great memories for those of us who lived it.”

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