James Aubrey Smith (1902-2004) worked as a filmmaker with the University of Georgia College of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service for nearly three decades. During that time, he produced films on subjects from ant extermination to the making of clothes for teenagers, from 4-H camps to Georgia pine.
He began his career as a filmmaker with the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1934, and worked for TVA until 1942. In 1943, he went to work for the Extension Service. Films would make a critical contribution to the Extension Service's work. A 1945 article in a film trade magazine noted:
"Two fundamental principles of the Extension Service, Director Walter S. Brown points out, are helping farm people to help themselves and the use of the demonstration as an effective teaching device. 'We realized, he continued, that much valuable material was being developed on Georgia farms and that it would be impossible for as many people as we would like to visit these farms. So we decided to take the results to the people through a motion picture production program.'"
Smith's Extension Service films were loaned out free of charge, sent to county agents for screenings in schools, 4-H clubs and other organizations. Knowing his audience to be farmers and their families, Smith often used those families in dramatizations, conveying information in story form.
Despite his fundamentally practical subject matter, Smith was also concerned with his films' aesthetics: for example, he built his own time-lapse camera for special effects. One colleague recalled standing in a cotton field in Polk County with Smith, because the filmmaker insisted on waiting until the clouds in the shot were perfect. Smith-whose work eventually took him to every single county in the state-remained with the Extension Service until retiring in 1971.
Several films Mr. Smith made are also stored at the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., in the Prelinger Collection at the Library of Congress (not fully catalogued), and on the Internet Moving Image Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/movies).
"Rural Education in Georgia: The Georgia Extension Service Reaches Farm Audiences," Business Screen, No. 2, 1945, p. 38.
"J. Aubrey Smith, 92, made films for UGA," obituary, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, May 16, 2004.
Prelinger, Rick. The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. San Francisco: National Film Preservation Foundation (2006).