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Several years ago editor Mari-Lynn Evans contacted me for help on her
PBS series on Appalachia. Since 1978 I have worked on scores of films,
most notably John Sayles' "Matewan," Hollywood films like "Reckless,"
and many others, both in-state and out of state. I helped create the
mega-series by WVPBS on the state - "West Virginia - A Film History,"
widely considered to be the best film portrait of any state. Ms. Evans
also said that a book and CD would be created. I am thrilled that the
book that has been produced has become such a great cultural
introduction to Appalachia on its own.
I myself have wanted to make a film or write a book on the widespread
influence Appalachian culture has had on not only American culture in
general, but global culture. Tom Wolfe's book, "The Right Stuff," was
one trigger for this inspiration when he talks during the opening of the
book about how so many pilots have a twang to their voice that goes back
to West Virginian Chuck Yeager. This book largely does what I intended,
showing through its many chapters how wide an influence Appalachians
like Johnny Cash, Lee Smith, and Senator Robert Byrd have had on all of
I particularly enjoyed the many photos taken inside West Virginia, the
home state to Ms. Evans, and the one where I live. West Virginia is,
after all, the ONLY state that is entirely Appalachian. I also enjoyed
the many photos of Shelby Lee Adams, who is perhaps the most famous
Appalachian photographer now, and the subject of a great documentary,
"The True Meaning of Pictures." I also greatly enjoyed the many pictures
from Ms. Evans family archive. As a filmmaker for many years, she has
protected this archive, and finally had the perfect opportunity to share
them with the world.
Two outstanding essays in the book are by two activists fighting the
scourge of mountaintop stripmining. Vivian Stockman and Julia Bonds are
world-class fighters who have stood up to illegal destruction of the
environment unequalled elsewhere in the world. When Ms. Evans began this
project, I told her that from my point of view this area is the most
important one for people to learn about concerning Appalachia today.
Shortly before I moved to Appalachia from Minnesota, my home state, I
watched Barbara Kopple's landmark film, "Harlan County, USA." I met
Kopple in New York City, accepting a film award for another great
filmmaker, Les Blank. Ever since then - June 1978 -I have been living in
Appalachia, working with filmmakers, photographers, authors, and many
others, documenting one of the most amazing places on earth. I have
worked with Appalshop on many films - Appalshop being perhaps the
leading media arts center in the world. I even discovered that my Texas
ancestors were originally Appalachians from Kentucky or another homeland
of transplanted Scotch-Irish.
The book is a fine introduction - the best that I am aware of - for
anyone who wants to learn about all aspects of Appalachian life. It is
only 256 small pages, easy to read, and written with great emotion. I am
sure it will be used as a model for future books on the region, and
perhaps, other regions including my native upper Midwest.
Ms. Evans did produce the PBS series that will finally be aired this
fall on national PBS. She said that Sony will also release a CD with
music from the region - music popularized recently in the Coen Brothers
(also from Minneapolis) film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” I am very
excited about listening and seeing both.
I may still have to write a book or make a film about Appalachia, but it
won't have so much to cover thanks to this volume. As an expert on
Appalachian cinema, going back to the silent classic "Tol'able David"
(1921) continuing right up to Lars von Trier's new film, "Dear
Wendy,"(2004) to be released in November of this year, I have watched,
and worked on many, many films that give the world various images of
Appalachia. I should put this down on paper before something happens. I
did help John Nakashima create a wonderful film on this subject,
"Mountaineer"(1987) that does catalog many of these images. I may even
help Ms. Evans do another film on how this image has changed thanks to
recent films like "October Sky," "The Mothman Chronicles," "Deer
Hunter," and "Gods and Generals."
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