Re: [Videolib] Film report from West Virginia

Steve Fesenmaier (
Mon, 13 Oct 2003 19:31:21 -0400

Film Nuts – November 2003

Daniel Boyd – WV Filmmaker of the Year

Boyd won the honor as the first WVFFF Filmmaker of the Year. Kevin
Carpenter had a record crowd for the premiere of his short horror film,
“Elk Hotel.” Lots of filmmakers and film supporters attended the WVFO
luncheon at Café Cimino after the Guild Meeting. Prof. Tom Douglass had
a great time talking about Davis Grubb the day before his presentation
at the WV Book Festival. He told me that he greatly enjoyed meeting WV’s
filmmakers and enjoyed seeing “Elk Hotel.” He is writing a biography of
Grubb. “Matewan,” no longer available on VHS or DVD, was shown along
with WVIFF’s sponsored “Lost in LaMancha” at the Elk Theater.
Huntington’s “The Last Hit” was shown before the many entered films. The
Café Ciminio did show “Jolo Serpent Handlers” along with “The Dishwasher
Principle.”(see below about WV editor Maria Brennen.) Winning films in
various catagories are - XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX The festival
was a great success, but organizers decided to rethink competing with
Friday night football. Plans for 2004 have already begun. Hopefully NYC
media and pizza maven Doris Kornish and Eastern Panhandle
filmmaker/historian/politician Jim Surkamp will be our guests.

WV Outlaws

At the WV Book Festival in Charleston, WV authors Chuck Kinder and Lee
Maynard had a presentation based on their August “Outlaw Writers” Tour.
Both of them discussed the strange case of another WV Outlaw – “Dancing
Outlaw.” Kinder is writing a novel, partially about Jesco called “The
Last Mountain Dancer.” He also is very concerned that Jacob Young’s film
about Jesco is not available. “What is the reason for this,” he asked
me. I explained that after Young was fired from WVPBS, they also wanted
to stop promoting him – so they stopped distributing WV’s most famous,
and one of the most honored, film. As I have been writing ever since
then – September 1997 – I have asked the same question myself. Various
sources including did sell the film. One friend of Young’s
even created, providing access to all of Young’s
films for the first time. Maynard and Kinder are starting a campaign to
liberate “Outlaw” from WVPBS. I proposed to Pat Conner, the director of
WVU Press, during the Book Festival that his organization distribute
Young’s films, and perhaps other WVPBS films that have disappeared. Who
knows – maybe even distribute “WV – A Film History?” Stay tuned for
changes in this strange situation.

Update on DEAR WENDY

Pam Hayes, director of the WVFO, sent me some good news about my fav
recent film project. Lars Von Trier’s staff have been in contact with
her – she sent him 110 lbs. of WV-related props for “Dear Wendy.” She
also told me that the film will only be shot in Copenhagen, not in
Germany as I reported. The Hollywood Reporter had a page 2 story on the
film on October 6, reporting that Alison Pill was hired to star along
with Jamie Bell who was the star of “Billy Elliott,” a recent English
film about a coalminers son who loves ballet. Thomas Vinterberg will
direct while Von Trier completes his trilogy with “Manderlay.” ( The
first part of the trilogy was “Dogville” starring Nicole Kidman. The
other part is called “Alabama.”) Pill credits include the award-winning
bio, “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadow” and the upcoming “Pieces
of April.”

The Mountain Moves

Robert Gates has been making films for almost 30 years. His studio at
1117 Virginia St. East has been both a cultural landmark and a filmic
one. I recall going to it my first week in the state – the second week
of Sept. 1978. Within weeks I was attending his weekly parties. I even
co-sponsored two with him in Oct. 1978 for the visiting librarians
coming to Fred Glazer’s Great Info Show. John Berry, still the editor of
Library Journal, and the current prez of ALA came to our party where we
screened my fav film, “WR- Mysteries of the Orgasm.” Since then there
were premieres of many films including his of course and ones I bought
for WVLC like “Northern Lights.” Gates was recently evicted by the local
Presbyterian Church who plans on making the site another parking lot. I
am sure thousands of people have fond memories of the studio with a
porch. You can reach him at his new studio, near the Empty Glass, his
home away from home:
Robert Gates, Omni Productions / Omnificent Systems, Box
5130,Charleston, WV 25361 (304)342-2624

A Tribute to Kate Long

Kate Long finally got the recognition she deserves. Her monumental
effort, “In Their Own Country,” won two national awards – the Gabriel
Award and the Scripps-Howard National Press Award. WV Public Radio
actually received the awards – but Kate is the artist who struggled for
2 years to create this fine series. Everyone knows who has been helping
WV writers while she herself wrote some of the best songs being written
here, and who wrote some of the best series for WV newspapers. I have
known her almost since I first came to the state, going to parties at
her house, watching her as she created her many project. She was there
at last fall’s Flooded Out Film Festival, and she was there personally
assembling the 200 + copies of “Country” CD-sets being sent FREE to
every public and academic library in the state. Let us salute one of
the best people in the state. I think that she and my friend Yvonne
Farley can both be called “the new Mother Jones.” She doesn’t like to be
called Wonder Woman, but she is a wonder!!
Check out her website at:

Feud – The Hatfields and McCoys

Bill Richardson has created the most accurate and interesting film to
date about the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. It is much better than the A&E
documentary. Very clearly without using extreme visuals he lays out the
history of the feud, showing point by point what really happened. He
carefully presents some of the many myths about the feud, expertly
showing that they simply could not be true – for example, that Devil
Anse hated the McCoys – he named his first son after a McCoy! He goes
back to the Civil War, showing how both of the founding feudists
actually fought on the Confederate side, and how even though one of
their relatives, a Union soldier, was murdered by the other side,
nothing happened between the clans for a decade.

I have seen Clyde Ware’s excellent Hollywood treatment of the feud,
starring Jack Palance. And I have seen many times the most famous silent
film using the feud – “Tol’able David,”(1921), one of the most famous
silent films ever made. Both films are excellent dramatic stories, but
based largely on the myths that Richardson debunks. This film should
definitely be shown before either film if possible – or maybe
afterwards. As John O’Brien, the author of “At Home in the Heart of
Appalachia” often states, this mythological feud was really all about
timber rights. There are many, many twists, and as the narrator states
at the end – learning the real facts of the feud is even more
interesting than the myths. It is time for Americans to learn the truth
about many Hollywood myths – like the negative stereotypes of
African-Americans, Arabs, etc. – and there is no better place to start
than learning the truth about the “dangerous hillbilly” myth too often
used by Hollywood films and TV series during the last century.

It is the first film about the Feud made completely in the area where
the Feud occurred and by people from the area where the Feud occurred.
Even the narrator is from Matewan. The only person not from the Feud
area was Chuck Biel, who did the music, and he is from Charleston. All
of the music in the film except one song is from the Feud period. Biel
downloaded sheet music from 1860-1890 and then performed and recorded it.

Richardson also worked on Jean Battlo’s film version of her play,
“Terror of the Tug,” recreating the famous lost documentary that was
made about “Smilin Sid.” Librarians, teachers, seniors, just about
anyone interested in this feud will greatly enjoy this film along with
“Feud.” Jean Battlo is selling copies of her great film.
2002 32 mins. VHS

To Purchase –

Bill Richardson
WVU Extension Office
Mingo County Courthouse
Room 3
Williamson, WV 25601

$ 15 plus $3 shipping

Winner of Best Historical Documentary, WVFFF 2002

Maria Brenner

One of WV's most active new filmmakers is Maria Brenner. She was raised
In Parkersburg, attended WVU, and worked for WVPBS as an intern. She is
presently getting her MFA at the University of Southern California and
working as the film/media coordinator for P.E.T.A. Several years ago she
edited and co- produced at WVPBS program, "Love Stories." She left
Morgantown, moving to LA to attend USC. In October she edited and
co-produced the short film, "The Dishwasher Principle," directed by Matt
Flanzer, a fellow USC student. The film was shown in Sutton at the 4th
WVFFF at the Café Cimino before "The Jolo Serpent Handlers,"(see below) and
Also screened at the London Raindance Film Fest and the Big Bear Lake
International Film Festival. (
In addition, she is currently in post production on a short film she
wrote, directed, and produced last summer in Morgantown, Clarksburg, and
Greensburg, PA. "Remembering Bob," a 12 minute piece in super 16mm
film, tells the story of a boy's friendship with a farm pig who is
destined to
be killed for meat. Shot by WV cinematographer Chip Hitchcock and
featuring an all West Virginia cast, "Remembering Bob" will premiere at
the Oohmahnee Farm Sanctuary in Greensburg, PA sometime this winter.
( in the works are a handful of feature-length
screenplays, and a reality TV show she's currently pitching to networks.

Kenneth Fink, McDowell County Filmmaker

Ken Fink, as he was then known, came to McDowell County in the early
Eighties to work in the school system for two years, teaching
photography. He directed his first documentary film there, “Between a
Rock and A Hard Place,” (1981) about the lives of coal miners. He
interviewed three miners from three different generations - a retired
miner, a black middle-aged miner, and a longhaired fellow who's left the
mountains, only to return. ( Someone from US Steel called me one
morning, asking me if I knew where Ken Fink was. I asked why – they
said, “Because he made a film that defames our company. His film shows
our foreman giving bottles of booze to workers on pay day. That is a
lie!” I called Fink to let him know about the inquiry. I don’t know what
happened, but Fink said that the foreman knew exactly what was going on.
That is the only time in my 25 years in WV anyone has threatened to
sue.) He returned to NYC and for years worked for network news shows.
In 1985 he released his film on work – “The Work I’ve Done,” distributed
by First Run/Icarus Films. Finally he got into film production, and
from there back into TV directing episodes of many of the best action
series – “Homicide,” “Nash Bridges,””Oz,””CSI,” and most recently “The
Agency.” Like James Cain, the famous mystery writer who based his
second most popular book, “Butterfly” (after “Double Indemnity”) on time
he spent in WV’s southern coalfields, Fink learned about the darker side
of life here. I ran into Fink one time in NYC at the American Film
Festival where his film “Work” won a prize. He loved my blond/orange
hair and couldn’t stop laughing. I stopped his credits often on the
network news shows. I never knew about his break into feature films and
network action series. Congrats Ken – maybe we can bring you back to the

Local History Project in Lewisburg

Lewisburg-based filmmaker B.J. Gudmundsson has been commissioned by the
Lewisburg City Council to begin a local history project. At a city
council meeting at the beginning of September they voted to give her
start-up funds to begin a very unusual project – film local people who
are of historical interest, and eventually put the footage on an
interactive computer based in city hall. Footage will be put on a
computer housed in a kiosk with an interactive touchscreen. Gundmundsson
has already completed her film on the Galford Lumber Co. called “Out of
the Storm” and is finishing a film about Cal Price. This project may
lead to other local history materials including a books, local history
classes in local schools, etc.

Flood ’96

Gary Aide decided to document the historical flood of 1996 in the
Greenbrier River valley as it happened. Most unfortunately, I did not
see the film in 1996 because if I had I would have recommended it to
everyone in the state. Recently I have watched quite a few films about
floods and even created a new film festival last fall called “The
Flooded Out Film Festival.” Robert Gates has been filming the results of
devastating floods in Southern WV caused by MTR and clearcutting. While
watching this film in 2003 I had to ask – did those two forces as well
as the unusual climatic events of the spring of ‘96 cause this
monumental flood? I really enjoyed the flood footage and the interviews
with the survivors, showing how bad the conditions got. I bought two
local documentaries about hurricanes after my first visit to Topsail
Beach. I recently returned, just before Hurricane Isabel. This film
reminded me of those two docs on those hurricanes, and made me realize
that both floods and hurricanes are to be feared. Congrats to Aide and
his assistants in making this 76 minute film – it is never boring and
always heartfelt. You can purchase a copy from PatchWork Films at: It’s only $19.95. It’s a nice companion
film to another PatchWork film – “Out of the Storm.” $24.95. “Storm”
shows how WV lumbermen helped save New England after the true “hurricane
of the century” blew down millions of their trees. Aide was the editor
on “Storm” and is working with Gudmundsson on other projects. He showed
parts of “Flood” at the 2003 WVFFF in October.

The Return of the Jolo Serpent Handlers

In 1978 a young NYC filmmaker, Karen Kramer, came to visit a friend of
hers in Welch, McDowell County. Ken Fink was working in the schools,
teaching photography, and making a film that became “Between A Rock and
a Hard Place.” Ken has been working on network news programs ever since,
and Kramer also made her first film in McDowell County – about the Jolo,
WV snake handlers. Since then Karen, like Ken, has had an exciting
career, making many independent films. In spring 1979 I brought Karen
back to WV, showing her film at WVSC, at the McDowell PL and right in
Jolo to some of the people in the film. I programmed the film as part of
the 2003 WVFFF in Sutton and hope to open up a WV film series in Doris
Kornish’s Pioneer Theater in NYC in March. Other people made films about
this regional religion including a beginning filmmaker, Peter Adair, who
went on to make “Word is Out,”(1978) one of the first documentaries on
gay men. His film was called “The Holy Ghost People.”(1968) WCHS-TV also
made an excellent documentary with the leading local experts including
Columbia Ph.D. Nate Gerrard in “They Shall Take Up Serpents.”(1963)
Perhaps the most comprehensive film on the subject was the WVLC series –
1981 “Saga of the Serpent Handlers.” The three parts are – “The Typical
Service,” “Baptism in the name of Jesus only,” and “A Funeral service.”
If you want to see “Jolo,” you can borrow a VHS or 16 mm copy from any
local library or purchase a VHS from Kramer at: (212)691-3470. WVLC also
has copies of “Ghost” and “Take Up.” Hopefully WVLC will make VHS copies
of the 1981 series and loan them thru local libraries. (See story below
on WV Authors series.)

WV Authors on TV

Gordon Simmons, Individual Artist Services and Artworks Coordinator for
the Division of Culture and History in Charleston, has been interviewing
WV authors on WVLC’s
Library Television Network (Charter Cable Channel 11) for several
months. Recently he interviewed Lee Maynard, author of “Crum” and the
forthcoming “Screaming at the Cannibals,” and his fellow “Outlaw” WV
author Chuck Kinder, the real “Wonder Boy” that Michael Douglas played
in the film, and a wonderful WV author who has recently completed his
memoir “The Last Mountain Dancer.” For more than twenty years Simmons
has been promoting WV authors, first at Charleston’s Majors Book Store,
then at Trans-Allegheny for a decade, then over in Huntington at the
Renaissance Book Store, and for the last several years at the Cultural
Center. If anyone should be interviewing WV authors, it is he! So he has
interviewed several authors – and the tapes are available from your
local public library. The name of the show is “West Virginia Author.” If
you live in the Charleston area, you can check the schedule at:
The show currently runs on Fridays at 9:30 am, 3:30 PM, 9:30 PM,
Saturdays at 3:30 am, and 9:30 PM. The four shows presently available
are Irene McKinney, Denise Giardina, John W. Billheimer, and
author/musician Kate Long. Hopefully there will be many more tapes. Dr.
Thomas Douglass, a native West Virginian, will be one of many guests at
this year’s WV Book Festival in October. He will also be a guest of the
WV Filmmakers Film Festival in Sutton on the same weekend, talking about
his new biography of WV’s most famous author – after Pearl Buck – Davis

Videolib mailing list