The South Charleston Museum
By Steve Fesenmaier for WV Libraries magazine June 12, 2007
Several years ago Pam Coyle, then director of the South Charleston Museum,
asked me to set up a Belgium film night. On July 19th, 2003 I finally
programmed such an event, showing the award-winning Dardenne Brothers "La
Promisse" along with "Misery in the Borinage" and the Beer Hunter's episode
on the "Beers of Belgium." Unfortunately, the Belgium-American Society
members were too old or busy to attend, and that was the end of it. I latter
showed a great documentary on a Belgium visionary, Paul Otlet, called "The
Man Who Wanted to Classify the World," and only one person came to the
film - the worst attendance ever.
The next year museum director Teresa Whitt asked me to do another program. I
suggested that we instead show West Virginia films. Bill Richardson of
Williamson had just completed his great new film, "Mine Wars," and the West
Virginia Labor History Association wanted to show the film. Jude Miller, a
first-time filmmaker from Spencer, also had a new film about Mary Ingles
called "The Captives." We screened "The Captives" the month after its June
world premiere at The Robey Theater, and just as my wife Frani predicted, a
large audience showed up. Another large audience came to the Kanawha Valley
premiere of "Mine Wars." We also screened Richardson's earlier award-winning
film "Feud," the only locally-produced film on the famous Hatfield-McCoy
Feud. We were off and running. I was asked to become a member of the board
as well, joining labor historian Dr. Fred Barkey and local South Charleston
Ever since July 2004 The South Charleston Museum has been showing WV films.
At first we presented one program a month, then two programs, and after
burnout set in, starting in January 2007, the programs are monthly, on the
second Saturday of each month.
We seldom have 100 patrons, usually drawing around 50 - sometimes only 20,
sometimes more. The biggest successes since the opening have been B.J.
Gudmundsson's "#30 - Cal Price and the Pocahontas Times," "The Night of the
Hunter," Blenko film night with Richard Blenko introducing a new film, and
the showing of Bob Gates' "Building a Cello with Harold" about local
instrument builder Harold Hayslett. He was honored by the mayor of South
Charleston with the keys to the city, performances by several leading WV
musicians, and a reception sponsored by the S.C. Women's Club.
Ken Hechler has presented "The Bridge at Remagen" in honor of the 60th
anniversary of the end of WWII and introduced "The Plow that Broke the
Plains" by WV's own super-star filmmaker Pare Lorentz. Davitt McAteer and
Jack Spadaro reunited for the first time since Spadaro was famously forced
out at the MSHA Mine Safety Academy where Mr. McAteer was his boss when
McAteer was the Undersecretary of Labor under President Clinton. "Black
Diamonds," the most comprehensive film to date on the effects of mountaintop
removal mining, directed by Catherine Pancake of Romney, had its world
premiere in spring 2006, with ticket receipts going to the widows and
orphans of the Sago Mine Disaster. (The film won the Jack Spadaro
Documentary Award given out annually by the Appalachian Studies
The Amazing Dolores was honored after her demise with showings of several
films about her, attended by her mother, sister, and friends. Recently Luis
Argeo from Madrid presented the U.S. premiere of his film about northern
Spanish people moving to the Clarksburg area, "AsturianUS," on a double-bill
with Parkersburg native Shawn Bennett's world-class documentary on the 1990
Ravenswood Lock-Out, "The Battle of Local 5668."
Secretary of State Betty Ireland introduced a night of travelogue films
about the state. Caroline Gentry was honored during the third program in
the series, September, 2004, on "Early WV Cinema." She is a "lost" WV film
person who wrote a screenplay turned into one of WV's first Hollywood films,
"The Key to Power" (1920). She latter directed the first compilation film
biography as head of the Theodore Roosevelt Motion Picture Library (now
housed at the Library of Congress.) Leading WV author Denise Giardina
introduced a night of films by and about WV authors just a week before she
had major surgery. Jay Lockman, the first WV member of the National Academy
of Science, gave an amazing program on the history and influence of the
Green Bank Radio Telescope that was originally planned for the new Clay
As a board member of both SCM and WVLHA, I have been able to program quite a
few exciting WV labor films during the last few years - "Misery in the
Borinage," the first great documentary about the reality of life in the
world's coal fields, "The Wobblies" in honor of the 100th anniversary of the
still-active union, "Monongah 1907," a film directed by Davitt McAteer, soon
to be a book, "Sludge," from Appalshop that covers the amazing life of WV
native saint Jack Spadaro, the restored "Harlan County, USA" on DVD two
years ago, and last February, Karen Vuranch's "Coal Camp Memories."
New members have joined the Museum, and thousands of people have seen films
they never knew existed. West Virginia's own filmmakers have found a home to
showcase their films. Daniel Boyd presented the world premiere of the film
about his amazing life as a wrestler in "In the Ringer" and Rudy Panucci got
to presented 8 minutes of his amazing "Radio Free Charleston," posted on the
web as "GazzTV." (In December he will present an entire evening of the films
plus live bands.) Anna Sale from WVPBS presented her film on Don Blankenship
before a presentation of Wayne Ewing's amazing film, "The Last Campaign"
that won "best film" at the WV Filmmakers film Festival and toured U.S.
movie theaters as part of "DocuWeek," sponsored by the Intl. Documentary
B.J. Gudmundsson has been the most frequent guest, showing not only her Cal
Price film with live music by John Lilly,"#30 - Cal Price and the Pocahontas
Times," but also two of her films about the "saints of Greenbrier County" on
Rev. Dr. Patrician Jarvis and Rev. Carl Renick. Most recently she along
with producer Allen Johnson presented the world premiere of her film
commissioned by Christians for the Mountains, "God's Gift of a Wild and
Wonderful Land" as well as the theatrical premiere of "Mountain Mourning."
For my efforts I was nominated and received the honor of "West Virginia
History Hero" in March 2006, given by the WV Archives and many other groups
supporting awareness of WV history. Dr. Fred Barkey was nominated by the
South Charleston Museum and received the honor in March 2007.
A few other restored film theaters like The La Belle in South Charleston
including the Alpine in Ripley have started to show WV films. B.J.
Gudmundsson ran a WV film series for several seasons at the restored
Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg. Hopefully as theaters such as The Strand in
Moundsville get restored, they will showcase WV's amazing film history, past
and present. I gave a program at the partially restored Keith-Albee Theater
in Huntington during the recent Appalachian Film Festival.
It would be nice if someone in Montgomery, WV would screen the great film
based on Christopher Janus' book, "Goodbye, Miss Fourth of July," as the
South Charleston Museum and The WV Labor History Association will be on
November 10th, 2007.
( Other film events for 2008 - a new documentary by Jason Brown on the
making and influence of "Matewan, ""Them That Work," a program by leading WV
renaissance artist Robert Tinnell, an amazing new autobiographical film by
Ray and Judy Schmitt, "Six Months," and lots more.)
Mike Sublette of Frog Creek Books has been one of the film series' leading
supporters, attending many events and financially supporting some events.
His WV/Appalachian bookstore located at The Charleston Farmers Market is the
best single source for WV and Appalachian films anywhere.
There is no other similar film program known in the world. Of course,
museums do show series of films about their region, etc, but no museum
anywhere has been continuously showing films about their state and region
as The South Charleston Museum has since 2003. When I programmed the First
WV Garden Film Festival this last spring with former Charleston resident
Rebecca Frischkorn, she told me that there were no other "garden film
festivals" in existence, but the Smithsonian and others have told her they
may start one themselves. She will be returning in spring 2008 to show her
the newest parts of her 10 part PBS series, "GardenStory" that will be
broadcast nationwide in June 2008.
Recent Hollywood films like "We Are Marshall" and "The Mothman Prophecies"
have greatly encouraged interest by West Virginians in films about their own
history and culture. As a result of the Marshall film, the Greenbrier
Quarterly did a nice piece on WV's long and varied film history, using
information I gave them. One library director recently called me from
Weirton to let me know that a filmmaker from Pennsylanvia was going to be
shooting in his office, and an indie filmmaker in Parkersburg held a casting
call at that local public library. I think that West Virginia is finally
getting movie fever - and I have spent almost 30 years searching for the
South Charleston Museum WV Film Series -
Steve's Appalachian/West Virginia Film Website -
Steve's WV Film Blog at The Charleston Gazette -
Frog Creek Books -
The Captives -
Patchwork Films -
Christians for the Mountains-
Real Earth Productions -
Daniel Boyd films -
New film on "Matewan,", "Them That Work"
WV History Heroes -
Alpine Theater, Ripley -
GardenStory update -
Robert Tinnell websites -
Hey don't forget to read THE CHELATION KID every weekday at
www.SunnyFunDays.com! Plus check out my other stuff on the following sites:
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