Lookout Mountain Flight Park Documentary Premiers in Chattanooga
By LYDIA BERGLAR
Jem Moore first visited Dade County in 1989 when he learned how to hang glide at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Along with hang gliding, Moore enjoys the art of filmmaking and telling interesting stories through documentaries. These passions unite in Moore’s documentary, “A Dream of Flying: The Story of Lookout Mountain Flight Park,” which will premiere on Jan. 15, 2023 at the Lookout Wild Film Festival.
Moore lives in Carbondale, CO, but for about a decade, he spent November through January in Trenton each year. In addition to hang gliding and working on documentaries, he is a folk musician and has toured around the world playing hammered dulcimer.
After 20 years as a folk musician, he went to flight school and worked as an airline pilot for about a decade. “Somewhere between flying corporate in China and then a private gig in Aspen, I started working on documentaries.” Moore’s film company is called Cloudgate Studios.
“A Dream of Flying” was completed in the relatively short time frame of one year. Moore explained, “In Oct. 2021, I took my family on a trip to Lookout Mountain. They’d heard me talk about it, and I wanted them to see it.” On this trip, his daughters had the chance to go hang gliding.
“I’d had an idea to do a short documentary about Matt Taber, the owner of the flight park, but I realized the story was much bigger than my initial thought. The film weaves together my story with the story of the park and Matt’s story.”
That trip is when Moore started filming. “I did a Kickstarter to raise funds so we could go back and do more real filming. We were here for eight days in May 2022 with an aerial film crew. We interviewed over 30 people total for the film. Then, I spent all summer editing. I was driven by the fact that the Lookout Wild Film Festival deadline was the end of October.”
In the film, Moore captured the family feel of the hang gliding community, specifically at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Taber reflected on this sentiment, saying, “It takes a village to build something like that.”
According to Moore, “This is the story of a family, the family of the flight park. The local area is also featured, from the valley, Trenton, and Lookout Mountain to Whitwell and Chattanooga. There’s no other place quite like this.”
One person who has helped create the sense of community at the flight park is Doris Polari who is interviewed in the documentary. “I’ve been at the flight park for 31 years,” Polari told the Sentinel. “My husband and I lived in Atlanta and traveled up here regularly. When he retired, we built a house up on Lookout Mountain. I was the honorary social director of the flight park and hosted Saturday night cookouts.”
Polari also served as an unofficial liaison to the City of Trenton and Dade County. “I helped Matt out as a spokesperson. It’s very much a community here. A lot of people who started flying here ended up buying homes and staying in Dade County.”
Polari added that the hang gliding instructors and pilots have found ways to serve Dade County over the years, whether by helping with clean up projects or rescuing stray animals.
While there are many others involved in the story, Moore specifically mentioned Dade County resident Tim Cocker who has been flying at the flight park since its early days. According to Moore, his home is essentially the United States Museum of Hang Gliding. He is one of the film’s producers.
Taber feels honored to have his story told through the film, reflecting, “It’s my life’s work. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years. Jem and the team did a much better job than I could have done with the film.”
As the documentary explains, the hang gliding bluff (officially named “McCarty’s Bluff”) was sold to several owners before Taber bought the property and started the flight park. Originally, the Tennessee Tree Toppers flew from the bluff in the 1970s. In 1987, Taber bought the property and started the flight school, just a few years before Moore began hang gliding.
With the motto “Wild places and the people they inspire,” the Lookout Wild Film Festival was a perfect option for the documentary. Moore added, “There are many hang gliding pilots within driving distance of the flight park and the festival, in Atlanta, Knoxville, Nashville. I’m so thrilled that I’ll get to watch it with other people who love flying.”
Moore hopes that the film will be picked up by a streaming service. “We’re submitting it to film festivals every day. We’ve submitted to about 50 festivals so far around the world. The idea is to find a streaming service that will host it. If we don’t get picked up by a streaming service, it will be available by video on demand online.”
“A Dream of Flying” was one of the first selected for the festival, and it will run during the Sunday evening block of the festival. Approximately 60 other films about outdoor adventures and inspiring stories are also part of the festival.To purchase tickets, visit www.lookoutfilmfestival.org/tickets.