Samita Wolfe: larger than life

Savannah Morning News

June 11, 2017

Direction is helpful. If you know where you’re going.

Ambition is useful. If you know where to direct it.

Passion is important. If you know what you are passionate about.

But what if you are 18, your mother died a few months after you graduated high school and you don’t have a clue? What if all you have is confidence, optimism, good sense, instinct you can trust, and middle school experience in a Naval Sea Cadet program, which your mom was smart enough to find for you.

Meet Samita Wolfe. Set decorator, prop master, art director, production designer, parachute rigger in the Navy, cow wrangler and – as of three months ago – owner of Savannah’s Film Biz Recycling, a nonprofit, one-stop-prop-shop for all the stuff Savannah’s burgeoning movie industry needs immediately for the perfect 20-second shot and then throws away.

Huh?

Samita follows her own path. One year out of high school in Woodbine, Ga., months after 9/11, she was waiting tables in Jacksonville, Fl., and feeling adrift when a customer doubling as a recruiter mentioned the Navy. It struck a chord. Samita signed up on the spot without telling family or friends. She didn’t want anyone talking her out of it and she knew they would try.

“I wasn’t in great shape or anything but I knew how to march military style,” she said. “I learned that at the Naval Sea Cadet Program. That’s what impressed them.”

By the time she left the Navy she had a title: Aircrew Survival Equipment Technician. She was the one who had to make sure everything was shipshape and in good working order before her fellow Naval parachuters opened the door, jumped out of the plane and pulled the cord. With the Navy, she spent three years in Japan with stops in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. She lived on the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier where she was charged with maintaining search and rescue equipment. She was one of 5,000 people on the ship, a vessel she called “a little town.” Ten percent were women.

Out of the Navy, holding a GI Bill, interested in taking advantage of the Hope Scholarship, she enrolled at Savannah State University in environmental sciences.

Fast forward a few years. Six hours away from a degree, Samita crossed paths with the visionary and quixotic George Dawes Green – author, instigator, founder of The Moth – just when he was assembling a merry band of raconteurs who would trek through small town Georgia communities in a bus, set up shop for the afternoon, step out onto a makeshift stage and weave stories. He called his dream The Unchained Tour. But who could he find to wrangle those wily storytellers? Who could keep the cranky, refurbished school bus up and running short of spit and duct tape? Who would sell the merch, cook for the vegans and vegheads, placate the mischief-makers, fix a flat tire?

Who you gonna call?

Green, always a quick read, knew the answer.

Samita got the nod – again, with no experience, no proven track record of handling the unexpected, of feeding and keeping track of a crew of freewheeling, independent rascals.

It was life-changing, she said. This South Georgia woman saw – once again – she could organize. She could coordinate, communicate, codify. She could deal with crisis. After working at Walls’ Barbeque in Savannah for could cook, she could cook.

After pulling off several tours she moved to New York City, where she always envisioned living. Without knowing what she would be doing or with whom, she made some contacts, did a little networking and found some gigs in the movie industry. Life was good. During lean times she found more jobs. She traveled with the Cusses. She hooked up with some folks on a farm in upstate New York where she herded cows and bottle-fed the calves.  But she always kept her house in Savannah. You never know, she said. One thing led to another. Right about the time she thought she might want to return to Savannah, she met a woman who headed a nonprofit outfit called Film Biz Recycling who wanted to pass along the business to Samita.

“I don’t know why exactly,” Samita, 34, said. “She had a good feeling about me. And I do like junk.”

You mean things like vintage suitcases, black and white tvs, flags, juke boxes, couches, lamps, chandeliers, globes, phone booths, bubble gum machines, canes, pillows, calculators?

Yup. In her warehouse on East Liberty Street, she’s got all the things people making movies, student projects, short films, commercials might want for a week and that’s all. In between that she hosts Wednesday craft night for anyone who might want to use her sewing machine or savoir-faire to put together something cool and original.

Who knows what’s next for this irrepressible 5-foot-10-inch redhead with the nerdy glasses who knows how to fake it ‘til you make it? Whatever it is it will probably end up a tattoo next to earlier chapters up and down her arms that include a crawfish from Woodbine days, a cleaver handle with electrical tape from Walls’ Barbeque, a cabbage from The Unchained Tour, a pouch of Red Man tobacco, a pecan tree and – of course – area code 912.