YSU alumnus discusses documentary production with students

“The Library That Built Dolly” tells the story of Dolly Parton’s rise to stardom, directed by Youngstown State University alumnus Nick Geidner. Photo courtesy of Nick Geidner

By Zach Mosca

Youngstown State University alumnus Nick Geidner visited campus virtually April 7 to discuss his documentary, “The Library That Dolly Built.” Attendees could meet Geidner and get to know him beyond his work on various documentaries.

Geidner is the director of Land Grant Films which operates within the University of Tennessee. The film — produced and written with the help of UT students. It’s an in-depth look at singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library non-profit program, which provides free books to children from birth until age 5.

“It’s a program that started in Sevier County, Tennessee — her hometown — about 25 years ago, and it’s grown to be one of the largest childrens’ literacy programs in the country,” Geidner said.

The documentary was supposed to premiere last April in select movie theaters across the country, including Regal Boulevard Centre 14 in Niles, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the theatrical premiere from happening. Instead, the film premiered Dec. 9, 2020 in the form of a Facebook Live screening for over one million viewers, much to Geidner’s delight. 

“I think the more impactful number is that as part of this Facebook premiere, a lot of local affiliates of the Imagination Library and the Imagination Library nationally ran a fundraising campaign tied to the film and through that campaign during that window, we were able to raise a quarter million dollars for the Imagination Library,” Geidner said.

Geidner began his journey at YSU in 1999 and eventually majored in telecommunications, when he became interested in creating documentaries. 

“Me and a buddy of mine, who actually went to Kent State, got in with Congressman Tim Ryan really early before he was a congressman and he was in the State Senate and we followed his first run for Congress,” Geidner said. “We were young and didn’t know what we were doing, and it never came together into a really solid final product, but it was an amazing learning experience and it showed that I could do this,” he said. 

In addition to directing Land Grant Films at UT, Geidner is also a journalism professor at the university.

“I teach documentary journalism and documentary video production,” Geidner said. “In that class, students create short [documentaries] with a group of two to three other students.”

“What we do is try to work with nonprofits to provide them video access that they can use to raise awareness and funds and we do that while providing students with real world documentary experience,” Geidner said. 

Anyone interested in watching “The Library That Dolly Built” can find the documentary for free on the Imagination Library’s website. The documentary will be on select streaming services this summer, and Geidner hopes to arrange theatrical screenings of the film once the pandemic is over.