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New Films and Videos on West Virginia and Appalachia

2001 was one of the best film years ever for new films about West Virginia and Appalachia. The great success of the feature film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and its multi-platinum-selling soundtrack recording led to a renewed national interest in traditional mountain music and spawned the follow-up Down From the Mountain. Appalshop films of Whitesburg, Kentucky, released biographies of two of the greatest mountain singers - Ralph Stanley and Hazel Dickens - along with a riveting documentary on domestic violence.

There is clearly a renewed interest in our region among filmmakers and film audiences, and several promising new projects are currently in production. Last October, a new film festival was launched in Sutton devoted to the work of our state's filmmakers. The next West Virginia Filmmakers Festival is scheduled October 4-13, 2002, at the Landmark Studio for the Arts in Sutton. For information, call (304)345-5850 or e-mail

A number of locally produced films on West Virginia history have recently come out on topics ranging from Jefferson County in the east to Blenko Glass and Marshall University football in the west. Of special interest to GOLDENSEAL readers will be the lumber history from Pocahontas County, Out Of the Storm. Featuring vivid oral recollections and generous historical photography, watching this video is almost like seeing a GOLDENSEAL article come to life.

It is also encouraging to see the recent restoration of a number of historic film titles including Night of the Hunter and Tol'able David, in addition to the four-disc DVD collection of rare restored "orphan" films, Treasures From American Film Archives, which includes segments from two historic West Virginia-made films.

The McClintic Library in Marlinton has created a large collection of videos on West Virginia and Appalachia. Many of the titles listed below can be found there, and West Virginia local libraries can obtain them through interlibrary loan. For information, call (304)799-6000. To purchase the videos listed here, contact any national video distributor, or check the Web addresses given. - Steve Fesenmaier

Hazel Dickens - It's Hard To Tell the Singer From the Song
55 min. 2001 Appalshop
From the coalfields of Mercer County to the factories of Baltimore, Hazel Dickens has lived the songs she writes and sings. A pioneering woman in bluegrass and country music, Hazel has influenced generations of songwriters and musicians. Her songs of hard work, hard times, and hardy souls have bolstered working people at picketlines and union rallies throughout the land. Her powerful, piercing vocals are featured in the soundtracks for the films Harlan County, USA and Matewan. She is a 2001 recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In this intimate portrait, interviews with Hazel and fellow musicians are interwoven with archival footage, recent performances, and 16 powerful songs. It is available from the Appalshop Web site at

The Ralph Stanley Story
82 min. 2000 Appalshop
The "Stanley sound" is true old-time, mountain-style bluegrass music, popularized by recording artists Carter and Ralph Stanley from Clinch Mountain, Virginia. This film tells Ralph Stanley's story through interviews with him, fellow musicians, and those who know him best. It is a revealing look at the homeplace, family, and strong belief system that underlie Ralph's intense singing and banjo playing. "Rank Stranger," "White Dove," "Pretty Polly," "Man of Constant Sorrow," and more than 20 other songs are included. It is available from the Appalshop Web site at

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
106 min. 2000 Disney Entertainment
The Coen brothers have taken Homer's Odyssey and transplanted it to the Depression-era rural South in this off-beat comedy starring George Clooney. In the film, three escaped convicts run across a blind soothsayer, a one-eyed (Cyclops) Bible salesman, a trio of silver-voiced sirens, and other characters reminiscent of the original Greek tragedy. The best part of the movie for many is the soundtrack featuring traditional mountain music, Delta blues, and Southern gospel. Ralph Stanley's performance of "Oh Death" and several versions of "Man of Constant Sorrow" are highlights.

Down From the Mountain
98 min. 2000 Facets Multimedia
On May 24, 2000, a concert was held at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville featuring artists who contributed to the soundtrack of the popular movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, along with other performers. That concert produced another top-selling CD recording of American roots music, launched a national tour by many of the artists involved, and resulted in this lively concert video. The video includes interviews and performances by Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Chris Thomas King and Colin Linden, the Cox Family, the Fairfield Four, the Peasall Sisters, and the Whites.

109 min. 2000 Facets Multimedia
Filmed on location in western North Carolina, this movie tells the fictional story of an outsider who finds music and romance in a remote mountain community. A musicologist, passed over for a position in the male-dominated world of academia, leaves the city to visit her sister in Appalachia, where she discovers a world rich in musical traditions and romance with a local musician. The soundtrack, available on CD, includes songs by Hazel Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Dolly Parton, Iris DeMent, and others.

55 min. 2001 Appalshop
Most of what we know about domestic violence has come from battered women in shelters. This documentary tells the stories of five rural West Virginia women who come to the Family Refuge Center in Lewisburg over a five-year period as they try to find freedom, justice, and safety for themselves and their children. The documentary challenges institutional response and national ambivalence towards wife battering and offers the model of a positive and healing approach. Shelter leaves the viewer with a message of survival and hope. It is available from the Appalshop Web site at

Blenko Retro - Three Designers of American Glass
120 min. 2001 South Carolina ETV
John Witek and Deborah Novak produced this colorful, award-winning documentary as a follow-up to their earlier film Hearts of Glass about the flamboyant and wildly creative glass produced by Blenko Glass of Milton, Cabell County. In the years following World War II, the family-owned Blenko Glass Company hired a series of three designers who later became world-famous, both for their glass designs and for their other design work. Their West Virginia glass pieces were considered some of the most creative in the world during the 1950's, '60's, and '70's, and this video provides insight into both the creative process and the production process of this unusual and collectable glass work. To purchase the video, visit South Carolina Educational Television's Web site at

From Ashes to Glory
120 min. 2000 Witek & Novak/WPBY-TV
This award-winning documentary deals with the worst sports disaster in American history - when almost the entire Marshall University football team died on November 14, 1970, after their plane crashed outside Huntington, killing all 75 aboard - and the team's subsequent rebound. The climb from the 1970 disaster to Marshall's two national championships during the 1990's in the I-AA division marks one of the greatest comebacks in American sports history. The video, co-produced by John Witek and Deborah Novak, describes Marshall's dramatic shift in fortunes and chronicles 30 years of sports history at the school. To obtain a copy of the video, call the Marshall Alumni Association at 1-800-682-5869.

Out Of the Storm - The Galford Lumber Company Documentary Project
120 min. 2001 Patchwork Productions
In 1938, a freak inland hurricane laid waste to millions of board feet of prime hardwood in the forests of New England. The Galford Lumber Company of Pocahontas County moved workers and equipment hundreds of miles in the dead of winter to participate in the Works Project Administration's ambitious timber removal effort over the next two years. This new documentary, based largely on oral histories and featuring a soundtrack of traditional West Virginia music, leads the viewer through the devastation created by one of the worst storms in our country's history and shows how it affected the lives of those Pocahontas Countians who left their homes to work and live in Northfield, Massachusetts. To obtain a copy, call (304)645-4998, or visit

Between the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers
55 min. 2001 Jefferson County Historical Society
Jefferson County is the easternmost county in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, and is also one of the state's most historic and picturesque. This new video tells the history of the county from the days of the Native Americans, through the colonial period and the Civil War, up to the current urban and suburban stage. The video illustrates the county's many historical sites, ranging from the cemetery plot for many of George Washington's family, to the Harpers Ferry site of John Brown's raid, to the home of James Rumsey - the inventor of the steam-powered paddle-wheeler. For purchasing information, write to the Jefferson County Historical Society at P.O. Box 485, Charles Town, WV 25414.

99 min. 1981/1998 Disney Entertainment
Greenbrier County native Margaret Prescott Montague wrote a collection of short stories in 1915 titled Closed Doors based on the experiences of seven teachers and seven students whom she met on a visit to the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Romney, where her brother worked as the school's director. Years later, a made-for-TV film version was created based on the book in which a woman leaves her wealthy husband in order to teach the deaf. Montague was an award-winning author and is thought to be West Virginia's most filmed novelist. Originally called Amy On the Lips, this film has recently been re-released on home video.

Night of the Hunter
99 min. 1955/2000 MGM Home Entertainment
Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters star in this 1955 classic thriller, which has been called "one of the most frightening movies ever made." Based on a best-selling novel by West Virginia native Davis Grubb, portions of the film were shot on the Ohio River, near Moundsville. The newly restored version was shown in local theaters late last year and will soon be available on home video and DVD.

Tol'able David
110 min. 1921/1997 Kino International
David Shepherd, America's leading film preservationist, has restored this landmark film by director Henry King, set in rural Appalachia. Combining the Biblical tale of David and Goliath with a mountain feud, this film was one of the early sources for the negative stereotype of the Mountaineer. [See "Early West Virginia Cinema (1919-1941)," by Steve Fesenmaier]

Treasures from American Film Archives
640 min. 2000 Image Entertainment
"Orphan" films are those which, for one reason or another, have never been seen by the general public. Over the years, countless of these orphan films have piled up in archives across the country. Recently, 50 of these rare treasures, gathered from 18 individual archives, have been restored by the non-profit National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) and issued in an impressive four-disc DVD set. The films, made from 1893 to 1985, range from early feature films to cartoons, avant garde fiction, and documentaries. Segments of two West Virginia-made films are included: West Virginia, the State Beautiful (1929) and One-Room Schoolhouses (c. 1935). For more information, check the NFPF Web site at

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