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Appalshop Film Collection: Home
Use this guide to browse and stream films from the Appalshop catalog available to UK students, staff, and faculty.
Appalshop Film Collection
Use this alphabetical list to browse and view streaming Appalshop films available to UK students, staff, and faculty. Click the title to access the InfoKat Discovery catalog record. Click "Films on Demand" in the 'View It' box in the catalog record to access the streaming video.
Anne Braden: Southern Patriot is a first person documentary about the extraordinary life of this American civil rights leader. Braden was hailed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail as a white Southerner whose rejection of her segregationist upbringing was“eloquent and prophetic.” Ostracized as a “red” in the 1950s, she fought for an inclusive movement community and mentored three generations of social justice advocates. Braden’s story explores not only the dangers of racism and political repression, but also the power of a woman's life spent in commitment to social justice.
Appalachian Genesis, one of the first Appalshop films, was commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission to document the state of mind of Appalachian young people in the early 1970s. It presents a vivid picture of the social activism and upheaval that had begun in the 1960s, especially with the War on Poverty. Appalachian youth speak out about the coal industry, the educational system, job opportunities, health care, politics and poverty. The film still resonates today as young people in growing numbers of communities across the country grapple with many of the same structural problems and experiences.
Applewise is an insider’s portrait of the Mullins family, third generation apple growers, and their struggle to maintain and manage one of only two remaining family-run apple orchards in Wise County, Virginia. The film follows the growing seasons as family members try to keep the orchard business profitable while struggling with pesticide issues and sustainability, and others look to the coal industry to strike it rich. In following Roy Mullins, his parents, and his brother in their attempts to make a go of the apple business, Applewise tells the story of a family that is on one hand extraordinarily industrious and inventive, but on the other hand not unlike most American families who are trying to seize the opportunities around them, to earn a living, and look after the next generation. The documentary explores issues of self-sustainable agriculture and sustainable land management, corporate competition, pesticide use and family unity.
“To the extent that I’ve made a contribution, it’s been to have people realize that AIDS is about all of us. It’s not really about gay white men or IV drug users or babies. It’s not about certain groups. It’s about all of us, really, and it always was.” — Belinda Mason A native of Eastern Kentucky, Belinda Mason was, as she says,“a small town journalist, a young mother, a reliable Tupperware party guest” until she became infected with the HIV virus in 1987. She decided to go public with her condition and spent the rest of her life as a powerful advocate for AIDS prevention, education, treatment, and human rights. The film features Belinda talking about her own experiences dealing with AIDS and the support she found within her rural community, and includes a presentation she made with her pastor to members of the Southern Baptist Convention: “People ask me if I think AIDS is a punishment from God. I can’t pretend to fathom what God is thinking, but maybe we should look at AIDS as a test, not for the people who are infected, but for the rest of us.” Funny, down to earth, and never self-pitying, Belinda speaks with a moving eloquence of our need for a collective response to AIDS that is not crippled by racism, homophobia, fear or ignorance.
There is a constant tension between the forces of an ever-changing economy and the need to have stable communities. As technologies change, workers can lose their jobs and whole communities can be capsized. Beyond Measure looks at thousands of coal miners who are losing their jobs as newer and bigger machine moves through the coalfields. The film places the present challenges in a larger historical context and documents efforts of citizens to rebuild their communities, highlighting the beauty and challenges of living in the mountains through people's descriptions of their daily lives in their own voices. They describe how the mutual aid and support of extended families and attachments to the land are more important than the things economists usually measure, prompting questions about the true costs of economic and technological change.
For Nixon's first public appearance since resigning the presidency, Richard Nixon chose the small mountain community of Leslie County, Kentucky. Priceless footage of Nixon's 1978 visit introduces this incisive and sometimes hilarious look at the engines that drive American politics. The film explores the machinations of party politics in this rural and staunchly Republican county: hollow to hollow vote-hunting; family squabbles over candidates; patronage promises; speech-making on the courthouse steps; and the up-and-down career of the incumbent county Judge-Executive who sought re-election while under indictment for vote fraud conspiracy.
Marijuana grows well in the Appalachian mountains — so well that in many parts of the region it has replaced tobacco as the number one cash crop. Bluegrass, Blackmarket investigates the underground economy that has developed around marijuana cultivation in an economically depressed area of Eastern Kentucky and the official corruption that has accompanied it through the voices of participants on all sides of the issue. A marijuana grower demonstrates his techniques for growing the plant and skirting the law. The area’s prosecuting attorney describes his frustration with trying to convict growers in a community that has come to accept the marijuana trade as a way of life. State police and national guardsmen eradicate plants found in isolated cornfields. A local newspaper editor laments the loss of community pride that comes with dependence on an underground economy. Woven throughout the documentary is the story of a large-scale FBI sting operation that led to the arrest of four local sheriffs on drug trafficking charges, making an excellent case study of the consequences of illegal economic activity and the difficulty of eliminating this country’s “drug problem” in places where people have few viable economic opportunities.
Across America, communities are struggling with questions of development. From the urban sprawl of the Northeast, to the suburbs taking over farmlands in the Midwest, to battles over grazing and water rights in the Southwest and the struggle over clearcutting and wildlife habitat in the Northwest, communities are divided over how to use the limited land resources in our country. In the coalfields of central Appalachia, the struggle for sustainable development is intensified by a legacy of economic dependency on coal mining. The Breaks of the Mountain, Russell Fork Gorge is a half-hour documentary about issues an Appalachian coalmining community faces while developing a tourist economy around a river gorge, focusing on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River as it flows from Haysi, Virginia to Elkhorn City, Kentucky. The film looks at the threats extractive industry present to this rare gorge, explores the promise of a sustainable ecotourism economy, and looks at the threats tourism could bring to the quality of life in a small town.
In 1972 a coal-waste dam owned by the Pittston Company collapsed at the head of a crowded hollow in southern West Virginia. A wall of sludge, debris, and water tore through the valley below, leaving in its wake 125 dead and 4,000 homeless. Interviews with survivors, representatives of union and citizen’s groups, and officials of the Pittston Company are juxtaposed with actual footage of the flood and scenes of the ensuing devastation. As reasons for the disaster are sought out and examined, evidence mounts that company officials knew of the hazard in advance of the flood, and that the dam was in violation of state and federal regulations. The Pittston Company, however, continued to deny any wrongdoing, maintaining that the disaster was an “act of God.” In 2005 Buffalo Creek Flood was inducted to the National Film Registry, an annual list of 25 films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" to the United States.
Filmed ten years after the flood, Buffalo Creek Revisited looks at the second disaster on Buffalo Creek, in which the survivors’ efforts to rebuild the communities shattered by the flood are thwarted by government insensitivity and a century-old pattern of corporate control of the region’s land and resources. Through the statements of survivors, planners, politicians, psychologists, and community activists, the film explores the psychology of disaster, the importance of community, and the paradox of a poor people living in a rich land.
Clarence “Catfish” Gray is a fifth-generation herb doctor living near Glenwood, West Virginia. In this day-in-the-life visit, Catfish reads letters from around the world seeking health advice, gathers herbs and roots from the woods around his house, receives visitors, and, finally, relaxes by skinny-dipping in a nearby stream. Running throughout the film is Catfish’s constant discourse on his healing techniques and his personal philosophy of life. Fascinating as a character study, Catfish: Man of the Woods has also been used extensively in colleges of medicine and nursing and among health care providers to explore alternative methods of healing and cultural assumptions about medicine and health care.
Chairmaker follows 80-year-old Dewey Thompson from Sugarloaf Hollow, Kentucky, as a rough-hewn rocking chair takes form under his experienced hands and well-worn knife. But this “how-to” film is as much about how to live as it is about how to make a chair: Thompson’s philosophy and insights into his character are gently interwoven with the depiction of his work. For the student of folk culture, the film provides a rare opportunity to see a folk artist creating his craft in the context of his everyday life, and for the student of history, Chairmaker offers a glimpse into the past, when Thompson's skills and values were once widespread in rural America.
On Dec. 3, 1984, the worst industrial accident in history occurred when a toxic gas known as MIC leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing at least 3,500 people and permanently disabling 50,000. The tragedy in Bhopal brought international attention to the predominantly African-American community of Institute, West Virginia, site of the only Union Carbide plant in the United States that manufactured MIC. Chemical Valley begins with Bhopal and the immediate response in the Kanawha Valley, an area once dubbed by residents “the chemical capital of the world," following events in the valley over the next five years as lines are drawn and all sides heard in the debate between those who fear for their livelihood and those who fear for their lives. Chemical Valley explores issues of job blackmail, racism, and citizens’ right to know and to act as it documents one community’s struggle to make accountable an industry that has all too often forced communities to choose between safety and jobs.
This series of interviews and photographs (many from family albums) chronicles the boom and bust of a biracial coal camp in the hills of Virginia. Retired miners and their families recall the joys and hardships of life in what was once a company- controlled community. The documentary, which was originally produced as a filmstrip, depicts the history of black and white settlement, the suppression of union organizing with machine guns and hired thugs, and Clinchco today — a shrinking community of retired people. The film presents an historical overview touching issues related to labor history, African-American studies, American history, sociology, urban development, and the American South.
Coal Bucket Outlaw is a documentary that asks Americans to look at where our energy comes from at a time when coal still produced over half of our nation's electricity, and reveals the human and environmental price we pay for our national addiction to fossil fuels. Built around a day in the life of a Kentucky coal truck driver, the film brings viewers into the cab of the truck and into the lives of the people who live and work by coal haul roads for a truly wild ride. A veteran driver who owns his own truck, and a young family struggling to pay the bills guide the audience along one-lane roads, up tight hollows, onto strip mines, and around coal processing facilities, while discussion of coal’s role in providing our nation with electricity connects the lives of these truckers to the lives of everyone in America.
Frank Jackson went into the coal mines of southwestern Virginia when he was 15 years old. This early Appalshop film takes the viewer on a "lowboy" cart right into the entryway of a deep mine, conveying what it must have been like for him to work underground as daylight shrinks and disappears around the bend. Coal Miner: Frank Jackson juxtaposes Jackson’s personal recollections of union organizing and mining work with scenes of him in and around the mines for a simple yet telling document of the experiences of a working man.
Interviewed at home and on the job, female coal miners tell of the conditions that led them to seek employment in this traditionally male-dominated industry — and the problems they encountered once hired. Watching these women bolt mine roofs, shovel beltlines, haul rock dust, and build ventilation barriers leaves little doubt that they can, indeed, do the work while bringing a special understanding to the problems all miners face. Coalmining Women traces women’s significant contributions to past coalfield struggles and the importance of their newer position as working miners in an excellent film for audiences interested in women in nontraditional roles, women’s history, labor studies, and women as a force for social change.
For decades Sarah Ogan Gunning wrote and performed hauntingly beautiful ballads about the lives of the working people. Born in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields in 1910, Gunning lived through the organizing drives, coal mine strikes, and bitter poverty of the 1920s and '30s. This program intercuts rare documentary film clips and photographs of early mining life with Sarah's most affecting songs, including when she sings: "I hate the capitalist system / I'll tell you the reason why / They cause me so much suffering / And my dearest friends to die."
The Electricity Fairy is a documentary that examines America’s national addiction to fossil fuels through the lens of electricity. Filmmaker Tom Hansell follows the story of a proposed coal-fired power plant in the mountains of southwest Virginia, connecting the local controversy to the national debate over energy policy at a time when coal produced half of America's elecitricity and the energy plan before Congress identified coal as a key to America's "energy independence." Present day documentary footage is remixed with old educational films, connecting past policy to America’s current energy crisis.
Evelyn Williams is a portrait of a woman who is many things: a coal miner's daughter and wife; a domestic worker and mother of nine; a college student in her 50s and community organizer; an Appalachian African American. Above all, she is a woman whose awareness of class and race oppression has led her to a lifetime of activism. Now in her 80s, she is battling to save her land in Eastern Kentucky from destruction by a large oil and gas firm.
Fast Food Women takes an inside look at the lives of the women who fry chicken, make pizzas, and flip burgers at four different fast food restaurants in Eastern Kentucky. These women, mostly middle-aged and raising children, are often the sole income source for their families. They work for wages barely above the minimum wage, have trouble getting full-time hours because of their employers' scheduling policies, and are without health care and other benefits. Analysis of the way fast food jobs systematically dehumanize and devalue the worker is intercut with comments from human resource managers at the Druther’s chain, while scenes of women at work round out this incisive, sometimes troubling look at life on the other side of the counter.
One of only a few narrative films in the Appalshop catalogue, Fat Monroe features Ned Beatty in the title role of Fat Monroe, a gruff, unshaven mountain man with the gift of gab and a merciless sense of humor, who offers a ride in his pick-up truck to nine-year-old Wilgus Collier, played by William Johnson in his film debut. Most of the film is a battle of wits between Monroe, who seems to twist everything the boy says, and the steadfast Wilgus, who stands up to Monroe’s devilment. By the end of his ride, Wilgus’ notion of truth and trust in the adult world is changed forever. As critic Linda Dubler writes,“There’s something of a rite of passage in Wilgus’ ride, something too about the cruelties of adults and the joys of storymaking.” Fat Monroe is based on a short story by Gurney Norman from his collection Kinfolks. The film version of Fat Monroe comes with an interview with this important Kentucky writer in which he discusses his literary influences and the importance of place in his writing.
Feathered Warrior portrays the widely practiced, but illegal, sport of cockfighting. The film opens with a slow motion sequence of a fight accompanied by a traditional tune played on a saw. Troy Muncie, a seasoned cock breeder and fighter who has won over 65 percent of his fights, outlines the rules of the game, describes the breeding techniques and fighting skills needed to win, and talks about why people enjoy the sport. Muncie is shown preparing a prize rooster for combat, and placing the rooster in the ring against its opponent. There the gaffs are installed, the two roosters face each other for the tease — and the fight begins.
Black lung is a debilitating, incurable, and often fatal lung disease caused by exposure to coal dust. Great Britain recognized it as an occupational disease by the turn of the 20th century, but the American medical community still denied any relationship between exposure to coal dust and disabling lung disease until the late 1960s, when a movement of Appalachian coal miners, a few maverick doctors and politicians forced the nation to confront the issue. Appealing to state and federal legislatures, and, when necessary, shutting down coal production with massive wildcat strikes, members of the black lung movement insisted on legal definition of black lung disease and demanded compensation for its victims, finally spurring Congressional passage of the landmark 1969 Coal Mine Helth and Safety Act in the wake of the tragic deaths of 78 miners in the Mannington Mine Disaster. Yet even the federal black lung compensation program continues to be the focal point of a confrontation between workers, employers, and policymakers. Fightin’ for a Breath looks at this 30-year history and the plight of black lung victims today, showing us what the federal compensation program was intended to be and what it has become — a regulatory maze designed so stringent that few disabled miners ever receive benefits.
Ray Hicks is a mountain farmer from Beech Mountain, North Carolina, with a genius for telling traditional folktales that have been passed down in his family for generations. This film shows Ray working on his farm, gathering herbs in the woods, and describing his family’s tradition of storytelling and his theories of human and natural continuity. Running throughout the film is Ray telling a tale called “Whickity-Whack, Into My Sack” (also known as “Soldier Jack”). Viewers will be charmed by Ray's tales and wiser to the traditional ways of life still in practice in the 1970s in central Appalachia.
Nestled near the foot of Mount Rogers is the small town of Rugby, Virginia. It is here that one can find the home and workshop of Wayne Henderson, a skilled craftsman and respected musician. Wayne was taught and encouraged by those around him — including the folk hero E.C. Ball and the kind and generous fiddle maker, Albert Hash — and awarded the National Endowment for the Art’s National Heritage Fellowship for his work as a luthier and musician. Producing over 400 guitars for the likes of Doc Watson and Eric Clapton, the quality of Wayne’s instruments have created a famous waiting list of ten years. Equally as famous is Wayne’s reputation for being generous, friendly, and approachable, with many travelers along the Crooked Road learning this first hand as visitors to Wayne’s shop and music festival every year. From Wood to Singing Guitar is a chance for those who can’t make it to Rugby to have that same experience through an intimate portrait that enables viewers to watch a master practice his craft and play the songs of home.
How do you provide accessible, affordable, and competent health care for a rural population? That's a question we still ask today, but in 1925 the answer was Mary Breckinridge's Frontier Nursing Service, which she founded to bring nurse-midwives to Hyden, Kentucky. The Frontier Nursing Service established outpost nursing centers that provided primary health care over 700 square miles of mountain terrain, growing into a hospital that today serves one of the few training programs for nurse-midwives in the entire country. In Frontier Nursing Service, comments by Betty Lester, one of the first nurse-midwives, are intercut with scenes from The Forgotten Frontier, a 1930 film about FNS which was made by Breckinridge’s cousin, Mrs. Marvin Breckinridge Patterson. In this rarely-seen film, nurse-midwives race on horseback through the wooded hills to deliver babies, treat gunshot victims, and innoculate schoolchildren.
In Kentucky, basketball is an obsession. The enthusiasm of Kentucky fans permeates every part of the state, and communities draw a sense of pride and identity from successful high school teams, supporting them by the thousands, especially in the rural, Appalachian mountain region. In the towns of Whitesburg, Jenkins, and Hazard, Kentucky girls teams dominate the basketball spotlight. Of special interest amidst the debate over the value of Title IX support for women’s athletics, Girls’ Hoops explores the history of girls’ high school basketball in Kentucky from its first heyday in the 1920s, followed by a 42-year ban on statewide competition, to its rebirth in the 1970s and development into the fiercely competitive, popular sport it has become today. Filmed over the course of a basketball season, the program features exhausting practices, intense games, rousing half-time talks, championship performances and enthusiastic fans from small coal mining communities where a winning girls team is the talk of the town. Girls’ Hoops includes up-close interviews with today’s players and coaches, comments from a 94-year old player from a 1920s championship team, and interviews and game footage of the woman who broke the gender barrier in the mid-70s.
Grassroots Small Farm tells the story of 260 families in Eastern Kentucky who banded together in a cooperative designed to make small, subsistence farms viable. Ervan Hontz, a VISTA worker, started the program in 1980 when interviews with hundreds of community residents showed their most pressing need to be “help with their gardens and livestock.” Hontz explains how the project works: “Charity is so many times degrading. So we offer a loan. For a milk cow, I want a heifer back; for a sow, I want three young pigs. They're not only getting something for themselves; they're helping their neighbor by passing along the gift.” Cooperative farm families are seen conducting project board meetings, building and operating their own greenhouse, and talking about their plans for expansion.
Chester Cornett has made chairs for presidents. His work is displayed in museums across the country. In Hand Carved, Chester fells a tree on the site of his family’s homeplace near the top of Pine Mountain in Eastern Kentucky and transports it back to his small apartment/workshop in inner-city Cincinnati. Cornett tells the story of his apprenticeship with his grandfather and uncle, and the personal and economic reasons he left the mountains. Intricate camerawork illustrates the process Cornett uses to chop, whittle, and carve the wood into an exquisite, eight-legged, “two-in-one” rocker designed for the film. As when Chester explains to the viewer that "I've traded a chair many-a-time for groceries," Hand Carved reveals the precarious life of an artist struggling to survive in a society accustomed to mass production.
Harriette Simpson Arnow introduces readers of The Dollmaker to its author – a feisty, funny, out-spoken, talented and hardworking woman in interviews filmed not long before her death. Arnow provides the basic biographical details of her life and reveals the difficulties of being a writer, a wife and a mother, roles that she balanced for much of her career. The film explores her experience teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in her native Pulaski County, Kentucky; how she left the mountains looking for work and an opportunity to write; and of the struggle to find the time and energy to write while raising a family, first on a Appalachian farm, then in wartime Detroit.
Nowhere is health care a more serious concern than in rural America. Corporate mergers, hospital closures, the move to managed care, failure to recruit and retain health professionals, and the outmigration of patients to large urban centers are threatening already fragile health systems and economies in small communities. Yet this decline can be turned into an economic and health care success when local providers and community residents work together to create health services that the community wants and supports. Healthy, Wealthy & Wise: Improving Rural Health Care & Rural Economies demonstrates to business and civic leaders, public officials, health care providers and consumers just how vital local health care is to rural economic development. Each year, the average rural county generates $73 million from health care. Unfortunately, over 50 percent of those health care dollars go right out of town to the big city. This documentary shows how to keep more of those dollars at home and improve local health care in the process.
Ethel Caffie-Austin, a daughter of the coalfields, is West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” The recipient of numerous awards in the U.S. and Europe, Caffie-Austin was guest artist at Wolf Trap, has sung with Pete Seeger, and appeared on West Virginia’s Mountain Stage with Joan Baez, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Kathy Mattea. She made her debut at the Kennedy Center in Women of Gospel. This documentary features Caffie-Austin performing a range of spirituals, hymns and contemporary gospel numbers that represent the rich cultural heritage of African American song and worship. Caffie-Austin's enthusiasm and belief in the redemptive power of faith are apparent as she is seen teaching gospel to a youth group, ministering to inmates at a state prison, and leading the choir at the Black Sacred Music Festival in Institute, West Virginia. Oral history, archival material, and interviews are combined with performance footage to tell a powerful story of personal freedom and triumph through faith, wisdom, and the support of a caring community.
Florida Slone is a singer and storyteller who lives in Knott County in Eastern Kentucky. When she contracted typhoid fever as a child, a doctor told her mother that the illness would damage her brain and that she would never be able to speak plainly, so Florida’s mother kept her out of school to help with family crops. These early years of isolation, cut off from spoken communication with even the closest members of her family, prompted Florida to develop a keen sense of observation. When she was later able to learn to speak, she celebrated this accomplishment by creating stories and songs of everything around her, and Homemade Tales includes Florida’s remembrances of her early years of struggle. She is shown imitating bird and animal sound, and singing songs she has made up about the natural world around her. She tells stories about witches who lived near her as a girl, and speaks of the visions and premonitions that guided her as she raised six children. Now that her children are grown, and her husband has died, Florida has had to become more independent. She returned to school, learned to read and write, and got her driver’s license. The documentary is a fascinating portrait of one woman's unlikely evolution.
Randy: "How long you worked in the mines?" Miner: "Twenty‑eight years. Straight. Nothing else. Don’t know nothing else. Can’t do nothing else … It gets in ya blood." Appalshop’s first dramatic film, In Ya Blood, is the story of a prototypical young man from Appalachia in the summer after his senior year in high school. In one of the only narrative films in Appalshop's catalogue, Randy, the protagonist, must make the difficult decision still faced by many Appalachian youth today — whether to stay in the mountains or leave in search of a “better life.” The film follows Randy as he struggles with his alternatives of working in the coal mines or going off to college. Shot in black and white by filmmakers the same age as those portrayed in the film, In Ya Blood is highly effective as an insider’s look at the decisions faced by many teenagers as they consider their futures.
John Jacob Niles is a portrait of the adding machine repairman who came to Eastern Kentucky in 1909, “heard the songs [his] father sang,” and became a much-noted “arranger, expander, collector, recorder, and performer” of traditional Appalachian ballads. Niles played an important part in the national “discovery” of Appalachian folk music. He describes how he travelled with the photographer Doris Ulmann through the 1920s and 30s — she taking pictures of the people, and he learning their songs. The film shows Niles in concert, at home, at work arranging his music, and explaining the historical place of balladry in American music.
A Fourth of July raccoon-on-a-log contest serves as the background for this portrait of George Wooten, Leslie County Judge. Wooten’s lyrical comments on recreation, retirement, and the mountaineer’s relationship with the land are mixed with scenes of spectators clustered on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, applauding as someone’s favorite black-and- tan coon dog plunges into the water and hustles a raccoon off a log in 45 seconds. “What we got here,” says Judge Wooten,“ is peace and happiness.”
Justice in the Coalfields demonstrates how current labor law has crippled the collective bargaining power of unions and weighed the scales of justice against working people. The documentary follows the 1988 United Mine Workers strike against the Pittston Coal Company that followed the expiration of their contract and Pittston's termination of the medical benefits of 1,500 pensioners, widows, and disabled miners. Justice in the Coalfields documents the community-wide outrage that Pittston's violation of a long-standing social contract ignited. The film captures events in southwestern Virgina — the heart of the strike and a right-to-work state — showing hundreds of state troopers escorting “replacement workers” through the picket lines. The film captures union members, their families and friends responding with mass civil disobedience that resulted in over 4,000 arrests, as well as state and federal judges reacting with injunctions and fining the UMWA more than $64 million. These events are given context through conversations with the rank-and-file, a federal judge, a public interest lawyer, the coal company president, and the public affairs director of the National Right to Work Committee for a clear-eyed look at the strike's social, cultural, and economic impact on coalfield communities.
Kindgom Come School follows teacher Harding Ison and his 22 students as they work, study, and play together during a typical day at the very last one-room schoolhouse in Letcher County. Students are seen doing cross-age tutoring, fixing lunch, working at the chalkboard, and receiving one-on-one instruction from the teacher at one of the last schools of its kind, while the film contrasts Ison’s views on the value of one-room school with the county school superintendent’s rationale for further consolidation. The film captures a moment in time and is a valuable data point in the ongoing debates about education in rural America today.
Lily May Ledford was the original “banjo-pickin’girl” and the leader of the Coon Creek Girls, the first all-woman stringband on radio. Pioneers among women performers, they played their own instruments and expanded the repertoire of what was considered acceptable material for women. In this portrait, Lily May talks about growing up in the beautiful Red River Gorge in Kentucky, about how her style developed, and about her experiences breaking into show business. The program intercuts footage of Lily May performing with comments from scholars and musician friends on the conflict between personal and professional fulfillment that existed throughout her career, her struggle for autonomy in the music business, and the role she played in the “commercialization” of mountain folk culture. Lily May received a National Heritage Award for her contributions to country and traditional music shortly before her death in 1985, and this film is a portrait of a musician who deserves a place in the canon for both her technical ability and her singular impact on the genre.
Long Journey Home explores the ethnic diversity of the Appalachian region, the economic forces causing people to migrate into and out of the area, and the choices individuals make to stay, to leave, and to come back. European immigrants recall the ethnic variety that existed in Appalachia during the first coal boom of the 1910s and ’20s, while African-Americans whose families left sharecropping in the South to build railroads and work in the mines talk about the transition to life in the coal camps. Common to all groups? Their dispersal across the country as automation took their jobs.
Mabel Parker Hardison Smith is a black Appalachian who taught school for over 35 years in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. Beloved by students from more than one generation, she is also known for her musical abilities as organist for her church and a local gospel group. Full of humor and vitality, Smith speaks eloquently about her family’s history in the deep South, their migration to the mountains, and life in the segregated coal camps. Widowed while pregnant with her third child, she describes how she went to college and became a teacher despite personal and financial difficulties. Smith's story is that of a strong woman whose dignity, conviction, and faith saw her through some very difficult times.
Millstone Sewing Center documents a community action program during the War on Poverty that funded seamstresses to turn Salvation Army hand-me-downs into new clothing. Using Office of Economic Opportunity funds, these local women made and remodeled clothing for poor families in two Eastern Kentucky counties. They explain how the center provided them with an alternative to public assistance, and talk about the effectiveness of social programs that grow from within a community, while the center’s director Mabel Kiser describes how she conceived of the center in the first place. Scenes of the women at work highlight how a community can "do for ourselves."
Mine War on Blackberry Creek reports on the long and bitter United Mine Workers of America strike in 1984 against A.T. Massey, America’s fourth largest coal company with corporate ties to apartheid South Africa. While strikebreakers work inside the mines and security men with guard dogs and cameras patrol the compound, miners on the picket lines detail the history of labor struggles in the region and their determination to hold out until victory. A.T. Massey CEO Don Blankenship, listed on AlterNet in 2006 as one of “the 13 scariest Americans,” addresses capitalism, social Darwinism, and the global economy, while Richard A. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, expresses union values.
Eastern Kentucky’s Morgan Sexton cut his first banjo out of the bottom of a lard bucket, and some 70 years later won the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Award for his “amazingly pure and unaffected singing and playing style.” In this program, the 80-year old Sexton shares his life and music, recounts how a series of family tragedies forced him to go to work while still a boy, and tells of his days gathering crops, logging timber, cutting railroad ties, and working in the coal mines. Morgan and his nephew Lee Sexton talk about learning music from their elders and each other, and the old days when, after a hard day’s work, they would “rollup the rug” to play music and dance with the neighbors. Intercut with these stories are Morgan’s renditions of his favorite songs, including “Little Birdie,” “Wagner’s Lad,” “Bonnie Blue Eyes,” “London City Where I Did Dwell,” and “Beautiful Doll.”
Morristown: In the Air and Sun
In this hour-long documentary, director Anne Lewis chronicles nearly a decade of change in Morristown, Tennessee, through interviews with displaced and low-wage Southern workers, Mexican immigrants, and their families. As Eastern Tennessee workers lost their jobs, Mexican workers came north to find them. The same global economy impacts all of us, and the film shows how working-class people — caught in the throes of massive economic change the world over — can work together, challenge their assumptions about work, family, nation and community, and ultimately evolve as they stand together in the face of globalization.
Mountain Vision examines five innovative and sometimes idiosyncratic examples of "homegrown" Appalachian television. "Joe's Show" is a live music show produced and distributed out of Joe Engle's basement in Viper, Kentucky. The 1957 national series "The Renfro Valley Show" is producer John Lair's romanticized vision of his mountain home and its music. "Virgil Q. Wacks Varieties" featured everything from mine rescue teams to Hawaiian dancers, and car lots to roller rinks. A long-running show typified by its zany hucksterism, the whole thing was presented in barely edited Super-8 montages held together by cheap glue and Wacks' stream-of-consciousness narration. The film also features Tennessee video pioneers Broadside Television, who in the early 1970s used inexpensive portable video equipment to put community events on the area's first cable access channel, and "Headwaters," Appalshop's television series about culture, politics and the people of Appalachia.
Most early mountain settlers did without professional medical help and learned to cure their own ailments using herbs, indigenous folklore, and home remedies. As the people profiled in Nature’s Way suggest, the practice of folk medicine has not disappeared from Appalachia. M.D. Machen is shown selling his cures in the traditional style of the patent medicine man while Scoop and Willie Westbrook talk about their remedies for flu. Etta Banks takes the viewer through the preparation of her family’s special salve. Kern Kiser is seen preparing his cancer cure medicine and describes how it saved his wife’s life. Lena Stephens, a midwife who’s delivered more than 5,000 babies, chats about her work as she calmly delivers twins.
Nimrod Workman won a National Heritage Award for his original songs, but in the film that shares his name, he often breaks into impromptu performances of traditional ballads, dances, and delivers monologues that are just as superlative. Born in 1895, Workman provided for a family of thirteen by working in the coal mines of West Virginia, and he reminisces about his experience with union organizing in the 1920s and 30s with anecdotes that match many of the experiences of miners of later years, too. To Fit My Own Category is an extended visit at his home as Workman and his family prepare meals, build an addition to the house, dig for yellow root, swap jokes with the neighbors, and enjoy each other’s company. This film will be of interest to students of labor and coalmining history, West Virginia history, and folklore and music, but Workman's inimitable personality make the documentary a must-see for all of us.
Oaksie is a portrait of Eastern Kentucky basketmaker, fiddler, and harp player Oaksie Caudill. The film follows Caudill through the steps of making a basket, from selecting the “right” tree to splitting and pressing down the white oak, whittling the rib to the final act of weaving the oak strips together. Throughout the film, Caudill's basket-making is interspersed with his fiddle and harp playing, a primitive style evolved from early Baptist church music in which each low action of the bow hits one note — the lead note or melody of the song — as when a human voice sings. Caudill captures the feel and spirit of a man who has spent his lifetime surrounded by beauty, as well as the traditional folk arts still common today in Appalachia.
One-Ring Circus is a behind-the-tents look at the life of the men and women who operate and perform in the Jules and Beck Circus. Interviews with the circus owner, concessioners, and performers are intercut with scenes of the big top going up and the show under way. Hard times for the circus in the age of television are in evidence everywhere, but the members of the troupe speak with humor, frankness, and occasional reverence about their work, each other, and life in a one-ring circus.
On Our Own Land
In the Appalachian coalfields, broadform deeds have long been used to sever the ownership of mineral rights from the ownership of the surface land. Although surface mining was virtually unheard of at the time most of these deeds were signed, Kentucky courts ruled years later that the owners of such deeds could strip mine the land without the consent of the surface owners. On Our Own Land chronicles the citizens’ fight to have the broadform deed declared unconstitutional in Kentucky. The story unfolds through the voices of local people as the viewer meets a family determined not to move their father’s grave for strip miners, sees the rubble of a strip job “reclaimed” to the letter of the law, and watches as citizens protest strip mine abuses and push the state legislature for reform. This powerful documentary is recommended for discussion of effective citizens movements and grassroots political organizing, the environmental and economic “tradeoffs” associated with coalmining and industrial development, and the difference that sometimes exists between justice and the law.
Four contemporary Kentuckians — James Still, Robert Penn Warren, Ronnie Criswell, and Billy Davis — discuss their work and its relationship to the environment in which they live. Ronnie Criswell reads his poetry over scenes of a drinking and brawling neighborhood in Louisville where he grew up, works reflecting both a cynicism and an affection for that environment. Poet and novelist James Still, filmed at his rural Eastern Kentucky home, talks about his writing which expresses great fondness for and attachment to the region’s land and people. Robert Penn Warren offers his reflections on how the world has changed since he was a boy in Western Kentucky and recites some of his poetry about naturalist John James Audubon. Photographer Billy Davis displays his aerial photographs and is accompanied on a picture-taking flight in a small plane while he captures unique aerial views of the Kentucky landscape.
In Peace Stories, three men from the South recount their war experiences. William Farmer, a WWI veteran from North Carolina, describes the trench warfare and killing that took place after armstice. Connie Bowling was recruited by the Department of Defense during WWII to train cyclonium operators in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where they were secretly making the enriched uranium that went into the first atomic bomb. Bowling recalls the reaction at the plant when the news came that the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and his own feelings of having particpated in mass destruction. Jack Wright, a Vietnam veteran from southwest Virginia, talks about his feelings of responsibility for the death of a prisoner of war and how difficult it has been for him to recover. Peace Stories puts the study of war into a human context as it graphically illustrates the impact of war on the ordinary people who carry out the decisions of presidents and generals.
Quilting Women traces the process of traditional Appalachian quilting, from cutting out and piecing together the patterns to the quilting bee. Quilters comment on the origins of the generations-old patterns, the time and patience required, the satisfaction of accomplishment, the quilts as art, and the companionship offered by women working together over a quilting frame.
The Ralph Stanley Story is a portrait of the Grammy award-winning bluegrass great and star of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. For over 50 years, Ralph Stanley’s banjo playing, haunting tenor voice and tradition-inspired repertoire have epitomized old time bluegrass music. This documentary explores Stanley’s musical roots in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia, the early days of The Stanley Brothers, and Ralph’s decision to continue on after the untimely death of brother Carter. Interviews with Ralph, former band members, and fellow musicians like Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakum are intercut with live performances of such songs as “Rank Stranger,” “Pretty Polly,” and “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Ralph also performs with Larry Sparks and Ricky Skaggs at his annual Hills of Home Bluegrass Festival.The Stanley sound is true old-time, mountain style bluegrass music. This film tells Ralph’s story through interviews with those who know him best.
Forests in southern and central Appalachia been extensively logged since the 1800s, now sold by the U.S. Forest Service for well below market value on public tracts of land that are typically clear cut in their entirety. Ready for Harvest features the U.S. Forest Service's promotion of management practices that discourage growth of non-commercial species, such as dogwood and red maple, and timber companies, who cite the Forest Service’s expertise to harvest trees primarily by clear-cutting because it is more economical than selective cutting. The film also interviews Walton Smith, who has practiced sound forest management techniques for more than 60 years; Betty Ballew, whose community was dislocated because other people wanted to use the land for their own purposes; and Chuck Crow, a Cherokee man who has seen the short-term gains and long-term losses to communities when the forests that surround them are stripped of trees. Mary Kelly, an ecologist, explains the importance of biological diversity to a healthy ecosystem. Ready for Harvest explores the complex questions of how we use and protect our native forests.
A film version of Roadside Theater’s highly acclaimed play, Red Fox/Second Hangin’ is the story of M.B. “Doc” Taylor, called “the Red Fox.” Taylor was a red-headed, red-bearded, highly popular preacher, doctor, philosopher, mystic, and U.S. Marshall. His execution, the second in the history of Wise County, Virginia, followed that of a local troublemaker, who — like Taylor — had been implicated in murders resulting from a feud that began during the Civil War. The hangings kicked off a law-and-order campaign that Northern speculators considered essential to expanding their coal mining operations in turn-of-the-century Appalachia. Onstage, Roadside Theater actors Gary Slemp, Frankie Taylor, and Don Baker recount this historical tale, adopting different voices and personae, and weaving economic and political tensions into a family saga. The program was recorded before an audience in Carcassonne, Kentucky.
Sarah Bailey, from Bledsoe in Harlan County, Kentucky, is one of Appalachia’s finest weavers and corn shuck artists. In this film portrait she is shown working on her corn shuck dolls and flowers and teaching corn shuck art and weaving in an Elderhostel program at the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Sarah talks about her beginnings as an artist “in the Hoover days when money was hard to get ahold of,” and the role of the Pine Mountain Settlement School in helping her establish a market for her work. She also discusses raising most of what she eats out of her garden, teaching herself to card and spin wool, and growing up in the days of a barter economy in the mountains. The film captures a way of life not so distant as many viewers might think and paints a portrait of art and life in Eastern Kentucky in the 20th century.
In 1974 three women opened the first shelter for battered women. By 1985 there were 700 shelters and safe houses. By the time Shelter was filmed in 2001, that number had almost doubled to 1,200 shelters nationwide. This courageous grassroots movement has not only saved lives, but changed the way Americans think about domestic violence. Shelter traces this remarkable evolution and gives voice to five women seeking protection in a rural West Virginia shelter. Working with advice and guidance from the shelter’s counselors and staff, the women struggle to find safety, freedom, and justice for themselves and their children. Two founders of the shelter movement discuss its history while Tillie Black Bear from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota describes establishing the first shelter for women of color. Shelter challenges our national ambivalence towards issues of domestic violence and common institutional responses from police, the court system, and social service agencies, while highlighting a model program that offers a holistic and healing approach to the problem. Shelter avoids the traditional television approach to domestic violence: rather than examining why violence occurs, Shelter explores the lives of women affected by violence and follows them through the long process of navigating through the system towards lives of safety and dignity.
Shortly after midnight on October 11, 2000, a coal sludge pond in Martin County, Kentucky, broke through an underground mine, propelling 306 million gallons of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River into the Big Sandy. The Martin County sludge spill killed all aquatic life along 30 miles of river, damaged municipal water systems, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Appalshop filmmaker Robert Salyer follows the government agencies and community members through their clean up efforts and their attempts to understand the causes of a disaster 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Filmed over four years, the documentary chronicles the aftermath of the disaster, the Mine Safety and Health Administration whistleblower case of Jack Spadaro, and the looming threat of coal sludge ponds throughout the Appalachian mountains.
Dulcimers are one of the world’s oldest musical instruments and have been heard in the southern and central Appalachian mountains since the time of the earliest white settlers. The knowledge of how to make and play them has been handed down from one practitioner to another for generations, illustrated in this film by I.D. Stamper, a master dulcimer builder and player from eastern Kentucky, and John McCutcheon, a young musician. Sourwood Mountain Dulcimers follows the two as they play together, swap tunes, discuss musical traditions and demonstrate the difference between hammered and mountain style dulcimer.
Step Back Cindy is a documentary about traditional social dancing as a form of personal expression and a way of sustaining communities. The program presents traditional dance in the mountains as fluid and changing with its own unique character. Dancers in Fancy Gap, Virginia are shown square dancing without callers. Dante, Virginia dancers demonstrate flatfoot and hold a cake walk to raise money for the volunteer fire department. In Chilhowie, Virginia, folks are seen socializing as only a community dance can facilitate. The final segment of Step Back Cindy features spontaneous dance and music by miner Clifford “Redbone” Steffey at a United Mine Workers rally near St. Paul, Virginia. The film is a portrait of a genre of dancing still found in all its variety throughout the region today.
Using funny, often poignant examples, Strangers and Kin shows the development and effect of stereotypes as technological change collides with tradition in the Southern mountains. The film traces the evolution of the “hillbilly” image through Hollywood films, network news and entertainment shows, dramatic renderings of popular literature, and interviews with contemporary Appalachians to demonstrate how stereotypes are created, reinforced, and often used to rationalize exploitation. Strangers and Kin suggests how a people can embrace modernity without becoming “strangers to their kin.”
During the 1960s, filmmakers from around the world came to Appalachia to document the dire conditions of the region’s poorest residents. Media focused the nation’s attention on economic justice and helped to lead to the declaration of the War on Poverty. But the use of the striking images of poverty also raised questions about whether media-makers with otherwise good intentions exploited and perpetuated long-held stereotypes of Appalachia. In 1967, this tension between media and community led to an extreme and tragic response, when Eastern Kentuckian Hobart Ison shot and killed Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor, who was in the region to document conditions of poverty. Stranger with a Camera revisits this tragedy as a way to examine the relationship between media-makers and the communities they portray in their work. The documentary includes dozens of interviews with people involved in the tragedy — relatives of O’Connor and Ison, VISTA workers who were in Appalachia at the time of the killing, filmmakers, and journalists such as Calvin Trillin, who was filmed reading a passage of the 1969 New Yorker magazine article he wrote about the incident and from which the film draws its name. ”Even though the film focuses on an incident that occurred more than 30 years ago, Stranger with a Camera illuminates contemporary issues of identify and representation,” filmmaker Elizabeth Barret said. ”And it represents my own quest for understanding, not only understanding the tragedy of the killing, but my own responsibility to my community as a maker of images.”
Strip mining accounts for over half of the coal produced in Appalachia as well as the region's most conspicuous environmental problem. It forces people to choose between jobs and the beauty, ecology, and in some ways, the existence of the mountains on which they live. Strip Mining: Energy, Environment and Economics looks at the history of this controversial mining method, the citizens' movement organized to stop it, and the battle to regulate strip mining that culminated in passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Filmed during the midst of the energy crisis of the 1970s, the film retains its relevance as a U.S. energy policy based on unfettered consumption again comes into question and more people weigh the impact of their work and lifestyle.
Strip Mining In Appalachia is an early Appalshop examination of the desecration of land and communities through surface mining of coal. A mine operator’s opinion that environmental impact is minimal is contrasted with statements from people whose homes have been ruined by bad mining practices. Aerial footage is used to show strip mines, while a biologist provides a scientific explanation of what this mining method does to the land. Although Strip Mining in Appalachia was filmed in the early 70s, it remains a clear-eyed and sobering voice in the ongoing debate over mining practices today — as well as a moment in time in a region that has been grappling with the consequences of this industry for centuries.
In their efforts to better their children’s education, the residents of this small West Virginia community found themselves face to face with an unfeeling, bureaucratic political structure. Struggle of Coon Branch Mountain documents their fight for a better road and decent schools, an effort that includes organizing the community, setting up their own school, and finally a march on the governor’s office. The film ends with a partial victory and determination to continue the struggle, and will be of interest to community organizers, as well as students of education, public policy, and rural issues.
The Carter family first came into international fame in the 1920s and ’30s through the records and radio shows of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle, who spread the music of the southern mountains around the world. Sunny Side of Life celebrates the legacy of this country music dynasty by focusing on the Carter Family Fold in Maces Spring, Virginia, an old-time music hall founded in 1975 by A.P. and Sara's children Janette, Joe, and Gladys. Sunny Side of Life features Saturday night performances at the Fold by such artists as the Home Folks, Red Clay Ramblers, and Hot Mud Family, as well as lots of flatfooting and clogging by the audience. The film includes a history of the Carter Family and an examination of the way old-time music continues to be integrated into the life of this community.
A sight and sound experience of mountain music and culture, Tomorrow’s People is an Appalachian precursor to today’s music video. I.D. Stamper’s dulcimer music and a lively banjo/fiddle/guitar “breakdown” are accompanied by a visual essay on Appalachian people and places that mixes archival photos and current footage. The film concludes with Lee Sexton leading a square dance at the Carcassonne Community Center. Tomorrow's People is one of the earliest films to come out of Appalshop and is an excellent example of the stylistic experimentation Appalshop continues to support in its young filmmakers' work today.
Whiskey-making, one of the oldest traditions in the mountains, has been illegal since the end of the 18th century. Tradition is a portrait of Appalachian moonshiner Logan Adams, who began practicing his trade as a boy because “back then there wasn’t any jobs…about like now.” Adams discusses his vocation and why he continues to make whiskey despite having served a string of jail sentences for the practice. Adams’ story and family interviews are intercut with a federal revenue agent who describes the methods used by law enforcement agents to apprehend moonshiners. The film concludes with a tour by Adams of his still as he describes the whiskey-making process. This film will be of interest to anyone interested in moonshining, the economic and traditional forces that motivate illegal whiskey making, the law and its penalties, as well as anyone interested in what a practice long stereotyped by outsiders really entails.
Carl D. Perkins was sworn into office as representative of Kentucky’s mountainous Seventh Congressional District in 1949 and was serving his 17th term when he died suddenly in 1984. A brillant legislative strategist and home‑style politician who never seemed to forgot a constituent’s name, Perkins served as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Education and Labor where he sponsored bills that established and expanded Vocational Rehabilation and Education Programs, the National Defense Student Loan Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ChapterI), and the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which gave the federal government a mandate to protect coal miners and established the Black Lung Benefits Program. Most of A Tribute to Carl D. Perkins was videotaped in his hometown of Hindman, Kentucky as more than a hundred members of the United States Congress and over 3,000 Kentuckians paid their last respects. The film includes remarks by friends and loved ones as well as eulogies by former Senate Majority leader Jim Wright, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and Senator Edward Kennedy.
“If the rank and file membership don’t take over their local unions and elect officers got some guts, they might as well throw up their hands and quit, for they got nothin’ now, not like it was when we organized.” — Disabled UMWA miner
In 1970, W.A. (Tony) Boyle was president of the United Mine Workers of America, under indictment for misuse of union funds and suspected of the murder of the most outspoken advocate for reform of the union, Jock Yablonski, as well as his family. UMWA 1970: House Divided intercuts a speech given by Boyle at a miners’ rally in Big Stone Gap, Virginia in the summer of 1970 with scenes at a mine and interviews with working and disabled miners. The film contrasts Boyle’s statements with those of the reform movement then growing among the union rank and file. UMWA 1970 will be useful for classes in U.S. and labor history, and of interest to anyone who wants to see internecine union conflict up close.
Jerry Brown of Hamilton, Alabama, is the ninth generation of his family to sit behind the potter’s wheel and turn out churns, jugs, pitchers, pots, and bowls. Unbroken Tradition looks at the continuation of a family tradition that has had an impact on Southern potterymaking since John Henry Brown (Jerry’s great- great-great grandfather) came from England to set up his potter’s wheel in Georgia in 1800. Unbroken Tradition follows Jerry Brown as he digs his own clay, prepares it with a mule-driven pug mill, works the clay into a twenty-seven pound churn on his wheel, and glazes and fires it in his wood-powered, groundhog-style kiln. Along the way, Jerry talks about how pottery has shaped the life of his family. Unbroken Tradition serves well as a jumping off point for discussion of the survival and changing roles of handmade crafts in industrialized society, the pursuit of alternative careers, the relationship between artisans and other types of workers, and strategies for maintaining connections to one’s family history.
Appalshop's radio station WMMT 88.7 FM has operated the only hip-hop radio program in Whitesburg, Kentucky since the 1990s. In 1999, volunteer DJs Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby received hundreds of letters from inmates transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge, the region’s newest prison built to prop up the shrinking coal economy. The letters described human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates. The two began filming that year and, though the lens of Wallens Ridge State Prison, captured an in-depth look at the United States prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of people of color from cities to distant rural outposts. Up the Ridge explores competing political agendas that align government policy with human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences. The film will be of interest to anyone interested in criminal justice reform, as well as to listeners of WMMT's ongoing Monday night show "Calls from Home."
Walter Winebarger is the fifth generation of his family to operate Winebarger’s Mill, a waterpowered gristmill located at Meat Camp, near Boone, North Carolina. He continues to grind flour and meal using a process that has changed very little since the mill was built a hundred years ago. In Waterground, water diverted from a nearby creek splashes onto a large, overshot wheel and brings the interior of the mill to life in a chain reaction of gears, belts, and grinding stones. As Winebarger fills bags with freshly ground flour, he reflects on the history of his mill and the social changes that have affected it. The simplicty of the mill and Winebarger’s comments on the difficulties facing the small farmer are contrasted with a visit to a large General Mills plant in Johnson City, Tennessee where 44,000 bags of flour are produced every day, and Waterground makes for a fascinating portrait of an industry in flux before the modern industrial complex took over.
In 1925, Guy Roberts was an impressionable 15-year old working in the pool halls of Pound, Virginia, racking games and selling moonshine whiskey. During the 1930s he took to hauling moonshine over the mountain to Kentucky. After taking part in a robbery he was forced to flee across America on the lam. The video weaves together Guy’s descriptions of his journey, family photographs, and the banjo music of Dock Boggs, including the song “Prodigal Son.” Like the young man in the parable, Guy returned home, faced his punishment, and “lived a good life.” Whippin' The Devil is a one of many Appalshop portraits but of an unusual character one not to be missed.
Woodrow Cornett: Letcher County Butcher follows an old-time mountain butcher, a master of his craft, as he goes through the intricate process of butchering a hog. Cornett’s son-in-law, Frank Majority, provides a running commentary on the action, while Ashland Fouts supplies harmonica tunes and humor. Woodrow Cornett: Letcher County Butcher was one of the first films produced by Appalshop and continues to be a favorite for its simplicity and directness, although viewers should be advised that butchering is not a practice for the faint of heart.
Yellow Creek, Kentucky documents the efforts of the Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens to stop a commercial tannery from dumping toxic wastes into the creek that flows through their small community near Middlesboro, Kentucky. The program begins with residents describing a series of health problems in the community, moves to the process of unravelling the ties between local government and industry, and ends with a victorious election in which a bipartisan slate of concerned citizens take over the Middlesboro City Council. Yellow Creek, Kentucky is one of many films in the Appalshop catalogue on community organizing and civic resistence, as well as struggles over land use and environmental justice that continue today.