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MoMA Celebrates Appalachian Filmmakers

Friday, February 19, 2010

Since 1969, Appalshop has chronicled life in the Appalachian mountains in all its beauty and ugliness.

The community film house has produced unflinching reports about the effects of coal mining, alongside loving portraits of Appalachian culture and music. As it celebrates its 40th Anniversary, MoMA will feature Appalshop as part of its Documentary Fortnight series this weekend.

Appalshop started as a War on Poverty jobs program in Whitesburg, Kentucky. As soon as the camera equipment arrived, the young filmmakers turned the camera on themselves. Its best-known documentary, Stranger with a Camera, looks back at the 1967 murder of a Canadian filmmaker. He was shot by a local man who had had enough of outsiders coming in to capture images of poverty. The film explores the history of stereotypes and exploitation that preceded the murder, telling the story both as a local and as a documentarian.

Whitesburg Epic (1971)

That tension of holding the camera while living in the community is at the center of all Appalshop films. Appalshop filmmakers shoot, edit, release, and then, they stay. Relationships change and stories develop around them. "If I do something here, and I think it's beautiful, but then someone from here sees it and thinks I've exploited us, then I have to live with that person,” says Willa Johnson, a 24 year-old Kentucky native and Appalshop filmmaker. “I have to see them everyday and for them to think I don't love this area."

Stranger with a Camera (2000)

It’s led to a remarkable collection of local stories. “I don't know of any other group that has been able to maintain itself for so long, with such integrity,” says George Stoney, a professor of documentary traditions at New York University.

Searching for an Appalachian Accent (2002)

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Comments [2]

beth m

saw "stranger with a camera" at moma yesterday. incredible. elizabeth barrett's work is rich with honesty and integrity, intelligence and beauty, a must-see for anyone seeking to understand american history and culture. how far do good intentions and creative entitlement carry the people who portray poverty and "otherness"? how much justice can be accorded to folks on the other side of the camera, who have fought for their land, who have been stripped of power but are proud and private of their culture? what a gift to see this topic explored by an insider, with courage not only to face this charged history, but to own the lens of one's own culture. thank you for contributing this piece on appalshop to the audience of wnyc.

Feb. 22 2010 06:32 PM
Steve Mooney from giles co, virginia

thanks for featuring the work of appalshop. i grew up 15 minutes from whitesburg on the virginia side of pine mountain in dickenson county. i now teach appalachian studies at va tech and often use appalshop film in my classes. appalshop is truly a unique success story, or story in persistence, determination, and endurance. appalshop has grown in both perspective and vision, from an overly defensive chronicler of "good" appalachia to a consistent explorer of the region and the problems which continue to make difficult a good quality of life there. but for those of us in the mountains, they are our home and are worth the struggle to exist among them: "being of these hills/ i cannot pass beyond."

Feb. 20 2010 01:07 PM

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