Appalshop, a media center in the Appalachian coal fields of Kentucky, wrote the book on community-based filmmaking. And did the film.
What began as a technical-training project to facilitate entry into professional television and film for minorities (part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty) has grown over the years into a worker-owned, active media cooperative, whose members are at once distributors, fund-raisers, social activists and artists with statements to make. The American Film Institute celebrates this successful 15-year evolution tonight through Tuesday, showing 15 Appalshop-produced films in five programs. New York's Museum of Modern Art will hold a similar tribute Dec. 2 through 6.
"The original government money for Appalshop was set up to train minority filmmakers around the country to enter the film and TV business," says Appalshop's director of distribution and marketing, Scot Oliver. "Which meant them having to move into a metropolitan area. But the folks here decided their main interest was what was going on around them at home." The original founders, Bill Richardson, Herb E. Smith and others, stayed in Appalachia and expanded the center.
"Originally the center started with one staffer and student intern and it has grown over the years. There are now 34 full-time employes and several part-time . . . The operation ranges from media production to distribution and marketing efforts, administration, recording and video production."
The center runs an active program in other forms of communication, including photographic workshops, photographic books on Appalachia, a traveling folklore theater group and a recording label (June Appal) that records songs about mountain culture.
The filmmakers wish only to document, support and preserve the center's cultural environment, says Oliver. "Most of them are Appalachian, from the mountains, and that gives them a certain forthrightness in their viewpoint, unique to their films."
Appalshop survives as a result of its hard-working staff, money from rentals and sales of its films to the education market, and a combination of government and private funding sources.
Although its films cover a wide range of subjects, the works all reflect an abiding commitment, on the part of the Appalshop team, to mountain lore and the current concerns of mountain residents. The AFI retrospective (chosen from films made between 1971 and 1984) ranges from an expose' of corporate officials, who apparently failed to warn residents of an impending creek flood even though they knew 24 hours before, to a 10-minute portrait of local butcher Woodrow Cornett.
The schedule of films, to be shown at the American Film Institute, is:
Today, 8:45 p.m.
"Judge Wooten and Coon-On-A-Log" (1971, directed by Appalshop veteran Herb E. Smith, 10 min.) portrays Leslie County retired Judge George Wooten, intercutting the film with a July 4 "coon-on-a-log" contest, in which dogs must knock raccoons off logs in a lake.
"In the Good Old Fashioned Way" (1973, directed by Herb E. Smith, 29 min.) is a half-hour documentary sketch of the Appalachian Old Regular Baptist Church.
"The Sunny Side of Life" (1984, by Scott Faulkner, 58 min.) looks at the Carter Family Fold, a music hall and meeting ground for regional musicians and showmen.
Tomorrow, 6:30 p.m.
"Woodrow Cornett: Letcher County Butcher" (1971, directed by Bill Richardson and Frank Majority, 10 min.) looks at county butcher Cornett at work.
"Nature's Way" (1973, directed by John Long and Elizabeth Barret, 22 min.), about some interesting Appalachians, including a traveling medicine man.
"Strangers and Kin: A History of the Hillbilly Image" (1984, directed by Herb E. Smith, 58 min.) looks at the images and stereotypes of mountain people as portrayed by the media.
Saturday, 4 p.m.
"Coalminer: Frank Jackson" (1971, directed by Ben Zickafoose, 12 min.) is a portrait of a coal miner who's been in the mines since he was 15.
"Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category" (1975, directed by Scott Faulkner and Anthony Slone, 35 min.) visits another coal miner, Nimrod Workman, who worked for 42 years in the West Virginia mines.
"Coalmining Women" (1982, directed by Elizabeth Barret, 40 min.) explores the world of women miners.
Sunday, 2 p.m.
"The Ramsey Trade Fair" (1973, directed by Scott Faulkner, 18 min.) looks at a flea market in the coal-field community of Ramsey, Va.
"Waterground" (1971, directed by Frances Morton, 16 min.) looks at Walter Winebarger, the operator of a water-powered grist mill in Meat Camp, N.C.
"The Big Lever" (1984, directed by Frances Morton, 53 min.) shows Richard M. Nixon's first public appearance after his resignation, in Republican-dominated Leslie County, Ky.
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
"Lord and Father" (1983, directed by Joe Gray Jr., 45 min.) is a portrait of filmmaker Gray's own father, a tobacco grower in the Kentucky hills.
"Buffalo Creek Flood" (1975, directed by Mimi Pickering, 40 min.) follows the plight of West Virginians forced to relocate following the collapse of a dam.
"Buffalo Creek Revisited" (1984, directed by Mimi Pickering, 32 min.) documents the rebuilding after the dam disaster.