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MAKING MOVIE MAGIC
Appalachian filmmakers put history on film with documentaries
By DAVE LAVENDER
February 27, 2005
Tonight, Beckley native filmmaker Morgan Spurlock could very well walk
away with an
Oscar for his Gonzo journalist drive-thru plunge into a daily McDonald’s
diet titled “Super
Size Me,” which boxed up America’s battle with obesity in a funny,
Through the use of documentary film, Spurlock, the 34-year-old NYU film
looked at our problems through the lens and saw that the enemy was us -
a very large
version of us.
Armed with a small budget (less than $75,000), Spurlock spun gold with
raking in $17.7 million worldwide and raising awareness about everything
lunches to the ungodly fat content of some of America’s favorite fast
The mainstream may be finally finding the documentary film work of
Moore and others big and tasty, but for many in Appalachia, the medium
has long been
used to tell the stories - our stories - when no one else would.
“I tell people that the rest of the world is finally catching up with
Appalachia,” said film
expert Steve Fesenmaier, who among other things books West Virginia and
films into the La Belle Theater in South Charleston. “Our vehicle has
always been the
documentary because life here is so amazing.”
Here’s a quick look at three documentary films being worked on in the
Zooming in on Cam and the zone
The Emmy Award-winning documentary film team of John Witek and Deb Novak
proverbial full-court zone press applied to another great local (and
national) subject for a
film they hope to debut for Marshall University Football Homecoming
The couple - which has produced such films as “Ashes to Glory,” “Hearts
of Glass: The
Story of Blenko Handcraft” and “New Music” - just finished their second
recreation for the
documentary “The Cam Henderson Story,” about the legendary coach who was
by introducing the zone defense, the fast break (in basketball) and the
pooch punt (in
They hope the documentary becomes the rally cry for en-shrining
Henderson into the James
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. They plan to
Henderson’s inclusion after the film is completed.
The couple is getting ready to wade through the vast sea of old footage
(they just received
1,000 feet of rare, color film taken from the field at Fairfield Stadium
during the 1937-40
football seasons), as well research they gathered from libraries and
personal collections all
over the eastern United States.
Composer and musician Jay Flippin and audio engineer Denny Chandler (who
“Ashes to Glory”) are back on board for this project, and Novak said she
hopes to be
editing by summer to make deadline for a hopeful October showing.
Some of that film includes flickering black and white that Witek has
taken this year of the
recreations with a vintage 16mm camera.
“We got the film back from the one-room schoolhouse (shot in winter
2004), and it looks
like old footage, you would swear it is,” Witek said. “The funny thing
is it sounds and feels
just like a coffee grinder.”
The couple is stoked about what they have found out thus far in this
“One of the things it will bring out is how he was connected to a
network of very important
people who formed the modern games of football and basketball,” Novak
said. “He was in
that circle of people, and one of the exciting things about the
documentary is that we will put
him in the company that he belongs.”
Taking it to the streets and the Keith
With youth armed with ideas and technology, it doesn’t take long to run
into a local student
and some D.I.Y. filmmaking.
Chesapeake High School senior Francesca E. Karle, 17, has been working
for the past
year and a half volunteering at a homeless shelter.
She is taking that experience and a heart for the homeless to the big
screen in a
documentary titled “On The River’s Edge,” in which she weaves together
nearly 20 stories
of people homeless in Huntington.
Started as a project for her Senior Girl Scout Gold Award, “On the
River’s Edge” has
grown into a project that has morphed into something larger.
A benefit and dinner/premiere for the movie, which runs about an hour
and a half, is set for
6 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, at the Keith-Albee Theatre, which is
sponsoring the event.
Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at the Keith-Albee, WKEE, Harmony
Midway Barbershop. To charge tickets by phone, contact Karen or Betty at
523-2764. Advance ticket sales end Wednesday, March 2. Proceeds, above
costs, will be
donated to the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless and the
Treating it like a Hollywood opening, they will bring the film’s stars
in limos and roll out the
Karle’s mom, Toni, got word Wednesday that CBS’ “The Early Show” has
said it will
cover the film premiere.
“It has had terrific support,” said Toni Karle, of the film which was
just burned to DVD on
Wednesday by Josh Edwards of ReelVision Productions. “The newspaper, the
the churches and businesses have all come together for this young lady
who wants to do
some good for her fellow neighbors. The impact has been tremendous.”
Francesca has been feeling the weight of the stories, as she has been
boiling the 20 hours of
footage down to 2 2/3, then two hours and now 1:32.
“It has been really hard,” Francesca said of the emotional weight of the
film. “It has been
really hard to know there are people who live by the river in small
tents in the snow and
cold. It has been hard emotionally as well as stressful in trying to
figure out the physical
things like what is wrong with the camera and who can I get to help me
She hopes people will support the film, whose proceeds go to the local
and outreach programs.
“I am really hoping for a big crowd,” Francesca said. “I hope it will
evoke some kind of
change and that people who come to the movie will want to help.”
The Keith-Albee will also be hosting student showings at 4 p.m.
March 16-18, and Monday-Tuesday, March 21-22, for $1 per student or a
can of food.
And there will be a showing for MU students at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March
16, for $1 and
a can of food. Call the Greater Huntington Theatre Corp. at (304)
523-0185 for tickets.
Between a native rock and a hard, river place
Author and Ironton resident Steve Shaffer, 48, has spent the past five
years - and plenty of
his own green - researching and writing in preparation for his first
“Written in Stone: A Documentary Exploring the Prehistoric Native
American Rock Art of
the Ohio River Valley.”
Plenty of folks are on board with this one - everyone from Native
American tribes and
archaeologists in five states to a production crew. Shaffer has recently
sent off a stack of
grant applications to help fund the project to shine a light on the
Native American Rock Art
that is as well known as the petroglyphs at Salt Rock and as obscure as
private property in Carter County, Ky.
Shaffer, whose last project was the published book, “Old Wounds: Oral
America’s Servicemen in German and Japanese Prisoner-of-War camps,” said
he is eager
to tell a story that professional archaeologists know well, but that is
not widely known by the
“The rock art is sort of a cultural treasure that has been overlooked,”
Shaffer said. “West
Virginia has some of the best prehistoric rock art. You don’t always
have to go to the
pyramids to see something ancient and wonderful. It is often in your own
The project has already unearthed an exciting discovery. A dive team
spent parts of the past
three summers in the Ohio River at Portsmouth, Ohio, looking for and
Indian’s Head Rock, a once-famous landmark for steamboaters that had not
since 1920 when the Ohio River was dammed.
It is the discovery of these treasures (this one 14 feet down in the
murky Ohio River) and
the knowledge that the ones above ground are being worn fast away by
acid rain and
vandalism, that keep Shaffer diligent about seeing this one-hour
documentary come to life.
Shaffer, who lived in Hickory, N.C., for 16 years before coming back
home to the
Tri-State, said that once completed, he wants to make the film available
to junior high
schools all along the Ohio River Valley.
Currently, he is set to begin filming this spring and is continuing to
look for more funding
“I don’t know why in Appalachia that these things have been so ignored,”
Shaffer said. “I
think these kids will get so excited when they see these. I saw them
when I was 10 years
old, and if you would have put me down in Thebes, I would have been no
That fascination has not left me.”
For more information about “Written in Stone,” go online at
Where to find local documentaries
Here’s a look at some ways to catch some locally and regionally made
AT THE LIBRARY: The Cabell County Public Library, 455 9th Street Plaza,
has tons of
movies on VHS and DVD, including a reservoir of regionally done
documentaries such as
the “Different Drummer Series,” that included Jacob Young’s “Dancin’
Outlaw,” which is
just out on DVD. The West Virginia Library Commission is one of the tops
in the country
for promoting film, thanks to such hard-working - and vastly
knowledgeable - film experts
such as Steve Fesenmaier, who also writes a film column for Graffiti.
E-mail Fez at
ON THE WEB: Check out Fez’s list and description of 50 new (and once
lost) films about
West Virginia and Appalachia, online at http://www.
Check out other indie films and documentaries at
MOUNTAIN GROWN: The South Charleston Museum and its La Belle Theater,
St., South Charleston, has been hosting some wild and wonderful West
Virginia made film
since July 2004. Upcoming films include “East Wind, West Wind - The Life
and Times of
Pearl S. Buck” at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 12. Admission is $1 donation to
Appalachian filmmaker Mimi Pickering is in person at 7 p.m. Saturday,
March 25. Showing
will be Pickering’s documentaries, “Chemical Valley” and “Hazel Dickens
- It’s Hard to Tell
The Singer From the Song,” at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25. Admission is
$1. Call Teresa
Whitt at (304) 744-9711.
ON TV: The weekly PBS series “Independent Lens” highlights indie film of
all ilk, but often
times documentaries from around the globe. Go online at
more info. At 10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, on WVPBS, check out “A Principled
Reverend Leon Sullivan,” a documentary about the West Virginia native
preacher and social activist. Go online at www.wvpubcast.org.
DOCUMENTARY AND DINNER: The Keith-Albee Theatre presents the initial
of “On the River’s Edge,” a documentary on the homeless, Tuesday, March
begins at 6 p.m., followed by the film. Tickets are $25. Proceeds are
donated to the
Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless and the Huntington City
Mission. Call (304)
VIDEO ATTACK AT THE MAC: The Mountain Arts Center In Prestonsburg, Ky.,
inviting high school students in the region to attend a one-day video
production seminar. The
free seminar will be conducted by an industry professional and will
include a hands-on
introduction to camera techniques, directing, producing and industry
seminar will culminate in the production of a video. To apply for the
Mountain Arts Center’s
one-day video production seminar, high schools should contact Khrys
education director, at (606) 889-9125, Ext. 15.
SUPER SIZE HIM: Beckley native and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan
created a “kid friendly” version of his hit documentary, “Super Size
Me,” targeted to
educate teens in grades six through 12. Check out the latest news and
Spurlock online at www. supersizeme.com.
AT THE FILM FEST: The second annual Appalachian Film Fest, which runs
Thursday-Saturday, June 2-4, in downtown Huntington, will feature some
of the region’s
best documentaries. Go online at www.appyfilmfest.com.
SHOP IT: Appalshop in Whitesburg, Ky., the media mothership of all
celebrates 35 years of shining a light on Appalachian people through
films, music, plays,
radio and other mediums. Go online at www.appalshop.org.
NEED SOME HELP? The West Virginia Film Office is online at
LIFE |Friday, Feb. 25, 2005
W.Va. natives fill big screen at La Belle in Charleston
For this week’s music column, we’re going from Boone County, W.Va., to
Ky., in only a matter of inches.
Jump in the back of the truck, we got big news about big stars on
we’ve got a yard sale or two to hit.
First stop: West Virginia. Boone County’s own Appalachian Idol, Jesco
Elvis-snarled and mountain danced into America’s hearts and minds in
1992, is back on the
The South Charleston Museum’s La Belle Theatre will show Jacob Young’s
documentary, “The Dancing Outlaw,” which made Jesco a cult hero (it’s
also now on
The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday as part of a West Virginia
film series hosted by
the museum. Call (304) 744-9791.
Also showing will be Steve Fesenmaier’s taped interview with the
eclectic West Virginia
singer/personality Delores Boyd (check out her hard-to-find CD, “Stop
Messin’ With My
Mind,” at the Cabell County Public Library).
The blues-washed gospel rocker, who recorded her CD with “Mountain
Michael Lipton, passed away in November.
It should be a fun night honoring two of the Mountain State’s original
On an odd note, Fez e-mailed and said Delores’ trailer was bought but
now is for sale
Anyone wanting to buy it, could park it beside Bill Monroe’s bus, since
it too is for sale.
One Way Rider, a central Ohio bluegrass band that played last year’s
in Scottown, Ohio, gave me a shout and said the ol’ “Bluegrass
historic 1956 flx tour bus (which they drove for six years), is for
sale. Check the band and
the bus out on the Web at www.onewayrider.com and
Speaking of the Uprising, set this year for June 2-4, it got some ink in
the current issue of
Cincinnati-based music publication Gritz Music Magazine, thanks to
Derek Halsey, associate editor and writer for the internationally
distributed mag. Go online
Also, tickets for this year’s Uprising go on sale Tuesday, March 1,
www.earthproductions.net. They are $50 for the weekend. Check back next
we’ll have a good-sized ink spill on this great, bluegrass-based jam
fest and other springtime
music festivals in the region.
Halsey also clued me in that one of my favorite Kentucky towns Rabbit
Hash (a town that
had enough sense to elect a 15-year-old mixed breed dog named Goofy as
mayor) and one
of my favorite Kentucky gals, Wynonna, have finally gotten together.
Wy made her indie film debut in a guest cameo in the comedy documentary
Hash: The Center of the Universe,” which made its regional debut in
December on the
southern side of Cincy.
Hope someone has good enough sense to bring that film here for a
Until then, go online at www.wynnona.com or www.rabbithashfilm.com for
Dave Lavender covers entertainment for The Herald-Dispatch. E-mail
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