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Films and Videos on West Virginia and Appalachia

By Steve Fesenmaier


-30- – Cal Price and The Pocahontas Times
100 mins. 2004 Patchwork Films

Pocahontas County filmmaker and musician Bobbie Jo Sharp Gudmundsson spent years making this portrait of Cal Price, the longtime editor of The Pocahontas Times, thought to be the last handset newspaper in America. Cal Price was pictured on the cover of our Summer 1990 issue. [See “The Pocahontas Times,” by Gibbs Kinderman; Summer 1990.] With support from the Pocahontas County Free Libraries and the Pocahontas Historical Society, Gudmundsson uses the tale of this family-run newspaper to tell the history of Marlinton and Pocahontas County. Price’s environmentalism is highlighted, as Gifford Pinchot biographer Char Miller tells the history of the conservation movement, which was interwoven with the political landscape of that time. Family members and others who knew the “Sage of Pocahontas,” such as National Geographic photographer Volkmar Wentzel, provide insight into the man himself. The film also chronicles how family members and employees sustained the newspaper following Price’s death in 1957, surviving floods, skeptics, and rapid changes in the publishing industry. Music is provided by John Lilly, Dwight Diller, and Oscar Brand.
VHS copies of the film are available for $24.95, DVD for $29.95, from Patchwork Films at (304)645-4998 or on-line at

Cliff-Scaling Soldiers of West Virginia
20 mins. 2003 Augusta Heritage Center

In 1943 and 1944, more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers came to Seneca Rocks to train for mountain fighting in Italy, Europe, and the Pacific. Elkins historian Robert Whetsell and filmmaker Gerald Milnes mark the 60th anniversary of the event with a detailed documentary about these unusual military maneuvers. With support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Randolph County Historical Society, the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College, and the U.S. Forest Service, the film includes rare historical photographs, film footage, letters, and first-person accounts from participants. Together, they tell how one of West Virginia’s most rugged and scenic recreation areas was used to turn raw recruits into hardened, combat-ready soldiers.
VHS copies sell for $26.15, including tax and shipping, and are available from Rob Whetsell, 202 15th Street, Elkins, WV 26241; on-line at

The Fifth String
81 mins. 2003 Front Porch Entertainment

Traditional mountain music is used as a metaphor for a wide range of personal and cultural issues in this ambitious and highly entertaining movie. Pocahontas County musician Dwight Diller and Clay County musician John Morris play two brothers who love old time music but have a strained relationship with each other. Diller, who plays the older brother, is a professor of music and folklore who returns to Appalachia for the funeral of the uncle who raised him. When he becomes trapped in the mountains, he embarks on a confrontation with a past he has tried to forget. The movie was filmed largely on location in Clay and Pocahontas counties and addresses issues of identity and cultural preservation in a changing world. Diller and Morris turn in convincing acting performances, and their strong musical skills make this an enjoyable and thought-provoking film.
The DVD sells for $14.95 and is available on-line from or by calling Front Porch Entertainment at (401)751-0014.

The True Meaning of Pictures – Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia
75 mins. 2002 Mercury Films

Photographer Shelby Lee Adams was born in eastern Kentucky. He devoted 30 years of his life to visiting and making portraits of families living in Appalachia, primarily those who are often misrepresented in the media, derogatorily referred to as "hillbillies." This film, directed by Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, delves into the controversy that surrounds Adams' work, including hot debate among critics and revealing commentary from his friends and photo subjects. “The True Meaning of Pictures” makes us question the meaning of art itself. Along the way, we get to know both Adams and the extraordinary people who stand in front of his camera.
The DVD is widely available. It sells for $22.46 on-line at

Mine Wars
55 mins. 2004 Bill Richardson Productions

Mingo County filmmaker Bill Richardson continues his investigation of local and regional history with this look at the age of mine wars in southern West Virginia and their influence on American life. Using rare historical footage and letters written by participants, Richardson shows a positive view of the labor struggle that took place here during the early 20th century, explaining what happened at the Matewan Massacre, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and elsewhere. Richardson interviews local experts, including author Lon Savage, Dr. Fred Barkey, Dr. Ken Bailey, and labor historian Dr. Ken Fones-Wolf, who describe these well-known events and put them together to form a much larger picture.
The DVD is available for $18, including tax and shipping, by writing to Bill Richardson, 29 Skyview Drive, Apt. #1, Belfry, KY 41514; e-mail

Mucked – Manmade Disasters: Flash Floods in the Coalfields
52 mins. 2003 Omni Productions

Robert Gates has been making films about the effects of strip mining since 1977 with his first film, "In Memory of the Land and People." This new film shows the relationship between mountaintop removal coal mining, steep-slope timbering, and the wave of major regional flash floods that began on July 8, 2001, in several southern West Virginia counties. According to the film, more than 380,000 acres of land have been mined by this practice; valley fills have filled in 1,200 miles of streams; and six major regional flash floods – and the Lyburn Disaster – have resulted, with major impact on 47 communities, 12,000 homes and businesses, an estimated $1 billion in damages, and a number of fatalities.
To obtain a VHS copy for personal use, cost $45, write to Omni Productions, P.O. Box 5130, Charleston, WV 25361; phone (304)342-2624 or e-mail

The Biography of Gwen Clingman
45 mins. 2003 Red Oak Productions

In 1945, Gwen Clingman and her husband Garland opened a small kitchen and began serving lunches in downtown Lewisburg. Gwen’s Kitchen became a local institution, as did its spunky proprietor. The film tells the passionate story of this remarkable woman, whose philosophy was, “Everyone should be able to afford at least one decent meal a day.” Gwen was the focus of a GOLDENSEAL story in our Spring 1999 issue, titled “Clingman’s Market,” by Belinda Anderson. Gwen Clingman passed away in 2003, just after filming for this project was completed.
The VHS tape sells for $19.99 and is available from Red Oak Productions, 316 Seneca Trail, Ronceverte, WV 24970; phone (304)645-2415.

A. James Manchin – The Final Accounting
28 mins. 1991 WV Public Broadcasting

Former Secretary of State A. James Manchin was forced to resign as West Virginia State Treasurer in 1998 after his office reportedly lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Manchin recently passed away, and the public response to the loss of this controversial and charismatic public figure was overwhelming. Manchin was famous for fighting outsider stereotypes of his beloved West Virginia, even traveling to New York City to protest. This is filmmaker John Nakashima’s second portrait of one of our state’s most colorful and debated politicians. His earlier film, made in 1988, was titled “A. James Manchin – Your Public Servant.”
Copies are available at West Virginia libraries through interlibrary loan from the West Virginia Library Commission.

John Marshall – Citizen, Statesman, Jurist
57 mins. 2004 John Deaver Drinko Academy

Marshall University and the West Virginia Humanities Council produced this film about the life of one of America’s greatest chief Supreme Court justices and the namesake of Marshall University. The film presents Marshall’s life from his early days on the Virginia frontier to his death in Philadelphia in 1835 when the Liberty Bell cracked, ringing for the last time. Historians and descendants discuss the importance of Marshall’s life work as the nation’s longest-serving chief justice, emphasizing that it was he who made the court the equal to the other two branches of the federal government.
DVD copies can be checked out through most West Virginia public and school libraries. For additional information, call (304)969-6397.

Whispers from Space
105 mins. 1996 Facets Multimedia

This documentary looks at UFO lore and self-styled “ufologist” Gray Barker from Clarksburg. [See “Gray Barker: West Virginia Ufologist,” by Matthew Mullins; Fall 2002.] Barker was an active writer, publisher, and researcher, who reportedly not only didn't believe in Unidentified Flying Objects himself, but may have perpetrated a UFO-related hoax or two himself. Photo stills, home movies, location shooting, and interviewees – ranging from Parker's surviving relatives to business associates, amateur sleuths, and a local folklorist – offer insight into the man from rural West Virginia who specialized in the flying saucer trade. Ralph Coon, a director of music videos from Los Angeles, came to West Virginia to make this documentary.
The VHS tape sells for $19.99 and is available on-line at

The Captives
58 mins. 2004 Jude’s True Blue Productions

Roane County teacher Judy Miller tells the famous story of pioneer settler Mary Draper Ingles, who is captured, survives, and finally escapes her Indian captors and travels on foot through the wilderness back to her home in eastern Virginia. Miller wrote, produced and co-directed the film, which had its world premiere at the Robey Theater in Spencer, the oldest continuous movie theater in the U.S.
DVD ($24.95) and VHS ($19.95) copies are available through Jude’s True Blue Productions, 527 Church Street, Spencer, WV 25276; phone (304)927-4793.

The Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia
50 mins. 1997 WNPB-TV

Maryanne Reed, who grew up in Beckley, directed this award-winning film about growing up Jewish in a small Appalachian town. This film examines the history and present-day concerns of the small Jewish community in Beckley. When the West Virginia coal industry was booming, Jewish people came to the area and established businesses that supported the coal-based economy. When the coal industry suffered decline in the late 1950's and '60's, many Jewish families, along with their Gentile neighbors, left the state for economic opportunities in other parts of the country. Typically, young adult Jews did not return, in part for economic reasons, but also because of the cultural challenges they encountered as a matter of course in the mountains. As a result, Jewish populations in the southern and eastern counties declined dramatically after 1960.
VHS copies are available at libraries through interlibrary loan. For more information, go to

Struggling to Survive
15 mins. 2003 Appalachian Media Institute/Appalshop

Three high school students in Letcher County, Kentucky, made this film in the summer of 2003 as part of the Appalachian Media Institute at Appalshop. Inspired by a county initiative to raise the local minimum wage to $7.75 a hour, the students interviewed elected officials and wage-earners to produce an inspired portrait of grassroots politics, hard economics, and survival. The resulting film won a national award for youth media.
The DVD is available by writing to the Appalachian Media Institute, c/o Appalshop, 91 Madison Avenue, Whitesburg, KY 41858; phone (606)633-0108.

Leo Herron – Augusta Master Series
60 min. 2005 Augusta Heritage Center

Barbour County musician ”Fiddlin’ Leo” Herron made his mark in West Virginia’s early country music radio days during the 1930's and ‘40's, playing fiddle and guitar in various bands over WMMN radio in Fairmont. [See “‘Seventh Heaven’: Saturday Night at the Sagebrush Round-up,” by Carl E. Feather; Winter 2004.] In the 1990’s, Leo re-emerged at the Augusta Heritage Center’s annual Fiddlers Reunion at Davis & Elkins College, delighting participants and impressing other musicians with his considerable talent. Augusta filmmaker Gerald Milnes recorded a performance by Leo in 1997, which stands as the only known visual documentation of Herron’s music. That performance now is available on this new DVD, along with rare audio recordings, historical photographs, biographical information, and three of Herron’s tunes played by apprentice fiddler Chris Haddox.
The DVD is available for $15, plus shipping, from; phone (304)637-1209.

Many of these films and videos are available at local libraries or through the West Virginia Library Commission; phone (304)558-3978. A complete list is posted on-line at