July 20, 2008
 
Documentaries Released About West Virginia and Appalachian Culture
 
By Tony Rutherford
Huntingtonnews.net Entertainment Editor
 
Ranging from coal labor battles to Fenton Glass, at least 18 documentaries have been released in the last five years concerning the state we call home, according to Steve Fesenmaier, a film historian and published writer at the West Virginia Library Commission. The listing will be published in the fall issue of Goldenseal Magazine.
 
Probably the most controversial ran on the History Channel as “Appalachia: America’s First Frontier,” however, for a DVD release, the producers have retitled it with the “H” word --- Hillbilly, The Real Story.
 
Now narrated by Billy Ray Cyrus, the two hour film focuses on battles of the Revolutionary War, railroads, mining, unionization and dam building. Fesenmair stated that it contains “stereotypical chacacterizations of moonshiners, snake handlers and gut-toting feudist.” The film is available by clicking: http://store.aetv.com/html/product/index.jhtml?id=115530.
 
Several films accent the environmental havoc of coal.
 
Produced following coal mining tragedies of 2006-2007 in W.Va. and Utah, “Burning the Future: Coal in America” estimates that over 50% of America’s electricity comes from coal, but questions the consequences upon West Virginians attempting to preserve their mountains, culture, and lives. Click: http://www.burningthefuture.org
 
Turning to20the labor movement, “Rise Up West Virginia” sends filmmaker B.J. Gudmundsson to Pocahontas County where she tells the story of the Mountain Keepers who have fought a 20-year battle against mountaintop coal removal. (http://www.patchworkfilms.com) Or, you can view “The Most Dangerous Woman in America,” which tells of the life of Mother Jones, the legendary agitator for organized labor. It contains the only known film footage of her. http://www.motherjonesmuseum.org
 
For the opposite viewpoint, “A Flaming Rock: Coal” traces the history of mining from the earliest hand-loading efforts to today’s techniques. It’s a tribute to the men and women who mine coal and describes their living and working conditions throughout history. http://www.aflamingrock.com
 
Turning away from coal, “The Last Ghost of War” shows the effects of Agent Orange, the chemical used by American soldiers in Vietnam. The documentary focuses too on the residents of Nitro, WV, one of 32 locations that produced the hazardous chemical. http://www.gardnerdocgroup.com
 
A 28 minute promotional film --- “Experience Fenton” --- shows how many of its pieces are made. Click: www.fentonartglass.com/shop/item.asp?item=FG142
 
“Trailer Trash: A Film Journal” detains how the filmmaking overcame growing up in a trailer without electricity or running water by studying art at Shepherd University. In addition to poverty and prejudice , the film reveals insight into drug use in rural counties. www.trailertrashafilmjournal.com
 
For those who missed the premiere, “Back to the Bottle” with guest appearances by Jamie Lee Curtis and Clint Howard is available on dvd. Email: karle2@marshall.edu
 
Three of the documentaries are on DVD at area libraries. They include a history of the West Virginia Turnpike (“Road to Opportunity”), “A Moving Monument : The West Virginia State Capitol,” and “Ken Heckler: A Pursuit of Justice.”
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