Two long-time, fabled festival directors have moved on in the last two months. After many tireless years at the helm, Hot Docs Executive Director Brett Hendrie and Full Frame’s Director Deidre Haj are both leaving their respective leadership roles, having accomplished groundbreaking work. Their impact will remain, but their absences will be felt as documentary festivals try to find a way forward after a year that has turned movie-watching in general, and festivals in particular, on their heads.

Hendrie has been part of Hot Docs for 20 years, spending the last 8 as Executive Director. In that time, he has grown the festival’s audience and the value of its awards and prizes. He has also expanded the festival’s “Docs For Schools” education program, and launched the Netflix-supported Canadian Storytellers Project, which supported filmmakers from underrepresented communities. He has also helped the festival respond to changing conditions in the industry, forging partnerships with digital and cable entities such as iTunes and Encore Plus. Hendrie will be leaving Canada’s Hot Docs for a new role at the University of Toronto.

Like Hendrie, Haj left her mark on Frameline over the course of her tenure, creating a number of public education programs, such as the Speakeasy conversation series, School of Doc filmmaking courses for teens and Teach the Teachers documentary literacy program. Haj helped grow the Festival, establishing a permanent home in downtown Durham, and raising the profile of the festival through it’s Academy Award® qualifying status.

Thank you to Brett Hendrie and Deirdre Haj for your contribution to documentary film. You will be missed!

KAPAEMAHU BECOMES FIRST HAWAIIAN FILM IN ANIMATED SHORT CATEGORY

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts released its most recent crop of 2021 nominees, Kapaemahu became the first Hawaiian film to be shortlisted in the animated shorts category. The film is co-directed and produced by a trio first-time Oscar nominees—Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson—whose work is already much-beloved by SDFF audiences. Like the trio’s last SDFF film, Leitis In Waiting (2018, 62 mins) and the earlier Lady Eva (2017), Kapaemahu focuses on indigenous third-gender identity. While the films have strong thematic resonances, Kapaemahudeparts from conventional documentary form, bringing a hidden history to life through Daniel Sousa’s striking animation and Wong-Kalu’s narration in Olelo Niihau, a pre-colonial Hawaiian language.

A descendent of Hawai’i’s original inhabitants who also identifies as mahu (third-gender), Wong-Kalu writes that the survival of indigenous peoples depends on self-representation, knowing and practicing cultural traditions, speaking in one’s own language, and forging practical links to history. Her own trajectory evinces this imperative as she moved from documentary subject, to producer and finally to co-director/co-writer.

Kapaemahu tells the story of the four mysterious stones that still stand on Waikiki beach, imbued with the healing energy of dual male and female spirits. In a director’s statement, Wong Kalue explains that telling the story is part of a project of reinvesting third-gender identities with respect and showing young people the joy and strength that can come from embracing male and female aspects of themselves. Telling that story in an authentic way meant not only speaking a pre-colonial tongue, but crafting the story in a situated way that diverges from eye-of-god-style documentary filmmaking. Hamer writes of the format, “Kapaemahu is a moolelo—a Hawaiian term that bridges the divide between myth and history, fact and fiction,” and notes that this hybrid format so important across the Pacific island cultures.

Kapaemahu has been lauded across the festival circuit, and won top honors at Animayo: The International Film Festival of Animation, Visual Effects and Video Games, and making the Oscars short list for best animated short, a first for all three co-directors. This is the second Oscar nomination for the short’s animation director, Daniel Sousa, who was up for his film Feral in 2012.

Watch Kapaemahu’s Trailer, visit the film’s website, or check it out on Facebook and Instagram @kapaemahu, or on Twitter @kumhinaLeitis In Waiting is available to stream/rent on VimeoAmazonYoutube and Google Play.

A heartfelt congratulations to SDFF alum Skye Fitzgerald on his disquieting, heart-wrenching and deeply powerful observational doc, Hunger Ward: The Last Hope Against War and Starvation, which was recently shortlisted for an Academy Award® for short-form, live-action documentary. This difficult, but unflinchingly ethical, work of cinema has not only met with critical enthusiasm, it has also found itself in excellent company after being picked up by MTV Documentary Films earlier this week. While the inclusion of such a serious, earnest piece of work may seem like an odd match for MTV, the music giant’s documentary filmmaking department has begun acquiring an impressive slate of films over the past year, from SDFF fave Gay Chorus Deep South (David Charles Rodrigues, 2019), to much-anticipated sjprt A Life Too Short (Safyah Usmani, 2021) to Oscar contender 76 Days (Hao Wu, 2020), which was shot inside Wuhan hospitals during the early COVID days. Hunger Ward is set to premiere on ViacommCBS digital linear streaming platform Pluto TV on March 1, where it will join this compelling collection of docs.

 

In the wake of a “war on truth” that has had profound and terrible repercussions in U.S. culture, MTV’s turn to a roster of sincere, socially-minded, and genuinely difficult work may speak to the rising hunger for what Fitzgerald describes as the tenets of the “Humanitarian Cinema Trilogy” of which Hunger Ward is the final chapter. In a Director’s Statement, Fitzgerald describes the Trilogy as the result of a changed approach to documentary filmmaking that came after self-reflection and an assessment that his method of the passionate craftsmanship and compelling storytelling “were not reaching a great enough audience nor activating sufficient change.” As he approached the three films that comprise the Humanitarian Cinema Trilogy, he did so with a filmmaking practice that “centered on a single, core principle: empathy.” The first two films in the trilogy focused on global refugees and displaced people, issues that are typically addressed in the news as abstract or even alien experiences taking shape in distant realities. By contrast, Fitzgerald’s cinematic renderings brought these experiences to the screen in ways that felt palpable, human, and ineluctably empathetic: 50 Feet from Syria (2015, 39 mins) is a film focused on doctors working on the Syrian border, while SDFF 2019 selection Lifeboat (2018, 34 mins) showcased the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by following search and rescue operations off the Libyan Coast.

 

This uncompromising commitment to empathy as a filmmaking practice appears in its fullest aspect in Hunger Ward, which provides a visceral and deeply emotional document of how war and famine have impacted Yemeni children, families and the workers at Therapeutic Feeding Camps. Intended to render the struggles of his subjects visible and emotionally legible to a broad audience that may not be confronted by such harsh scenarios on a regular basis, empathy is the guiding principle and central cinematic tactic of the film, and its one Fitzgerald hopes will open his audience up to self-reflection, debate and political action.

 

Fitzgerald’s “Humanitarian Cinema” films have been honored by critics, appearing on Academy Awards® shortlists, garnering nominations for Emmy’s®, and IDA awards. However, while his artistry as a filmmaker is critically acclaimed, his work is most important in calling attention to humanitarian issues by capturing the emotional stakes of his subjects without losing sight of the political, economic and systemic issues that produce human suffering and desperation in the first place. The humanitarian issues at the center of his films emotionally palpable, immediate and actionable. Fitzgerald’s hope in his director’s statement is that Hunger Ward will generate empathy while also catalyzing U.S. discourse around the war in Yemen, moving from a near absence of public discourse to one based on empathy and shared humanity, one that’s self-reflexive and willing to hold itself to account. Fitzgerald’s films are envisioned as interventions in the humanitarian disasters they depict, generating empathy with their vulnerable subjects that may open audiences to the root causes of suffering in Yemen and the American role in sustaining it, while also suggesting comprehensible, actionable remedies. For more on how to become involved and help stop the famine, the film’s website dedicates a full page to resources for further engagement, including everything from social media engagement to political advocacy and on-the-ground work to donations.


Watch Hunger Ward Trailer  l  Visit Hunger Ward Website
Hunger Ward Screening Events (below)

Date How to RSVP Hosted By
Thu 2/25, 5pm EST https://gathr.us/screening/31736 FCNL (Wash D.C.)
Tue 3/2, 6pm EST email to: hungerward@tcdm-associates.com Spin Film
Thu 3/4, 9pm EST https://gathr.us/screening/31762 Museum of Tolerance (L.A.)
Mon, 3/8, 1pm EST email to: hungerward@tcdm-associates.com Spin Film

 

Ben Proudfoot, whose SDFF 2020 entry That’s My Jazz, was a fan favorite, is seeing his ongoing collaborations with the New York Times OpDocs celebrated across the film world, in particular his collaboration with Emmy-winning film composer and co-Director Kris Bowers on A Concerto is a Conversation. A Concerto is a Conversation is showing at  Sundance 2021 until Feb 3, and has picked up wildly brilliant filmmaker Ava DuVarnay as an Executive Producer, according to Variety, which is also calling the film an early contender for the 2021 Oscar for Documentary Short.

A Concerto is a Conversation is part of  a NY Times series, “Can’t be with your grandparents? Watch this instead,” which was released around Thanksgiving 2020, a family holiday many people endured in isolation due to pandemic-related safety precautions. You can still watch it there for free. The film tells the story of a virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer Kris Bowers, who also a co-directs the film, and his relationship with his grandfather Horace. The titular concerto refers to the mirrored conversations tracked by the film—one between soloist and orchestra, the other between grandfather and grandson, as Kris traverses his family’s lineage through his 91 year-old grandfather, from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In conversation, Kris draws a personal tale from his grandfather that seems to encompass the history of 20th Century racism in America as it goes, from the explicit segregation of the deep south to the implicit bias and quiet bigotry that compelled Horace to conduct business via mail to obscure his skin color after he’d moved west. Told in the warmly lit spaces of the family home, the short is as much an homage to the relative safety and support of family and the complex beauty of intergenerational relationships as it is about the harsh social spaces Horace has occupied throughout his life. The film is lovingly rendered and feels deeply appropriate to a moment in which so many are losing their family elders. See Proudfoot talk about the film and its upcoming Sundance appearance in this Nashville Noise interview.

Hands of grandfather Horace Bowers (top) and grandson Kris Bowers from Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’s short A Concerto Is A Conversation, one in a series of New York Times OpDoc collaborations, available to stream here.

Another of Proudfoot’s OpDoc shorts with The TimesAlmost Famous: The Lost Astronaut, was shortlisted for the  2020 International Documentary Association AwardsThe Lost Astronaut is a film that renders systemic and spectacular forms of racism visible and examines how they shape the life of black astronaut Ed Dwight Junior in a historic context. Although Dwight Jr. should have been the first black man on the moon, his story  is emblematic of how systemic racism and individual bigotry combined to keep him grounded despite excelling in virtually every relevant field. When NASA made this decision, Dwight Jr. had already completed the gauntlet required for astronauts, an extraordinarily taxing regimen, the difficulty of which was compounded by openly hostile racism. After resigning from the Air Force, Dwight would become a successful entrepreneur, an engineer, and, eventually, a vaunted artist and sculptor. Earlier this year, SDFF featured this film and the educational material that accompanies it from The Learning Network Film Club earlier in the year, which provides material for families to help address cultural issues with their children. The film has been shortlisted for IDA’s 2020 awards.

Proudfoot and The New York Times OpDocs collaboration has also been responsible for  the profoundly moving “Cause of Life,” a set of five short films made as the US death toll hit 318,00, which attempts to understand the gravity of America’s shared loss by celebrating the gifts people who lost their lives to coronavirus left behind.

 

Filmmaker/author Rustin Thompson recently received a nod for Best Documentary by a Seattle filmmaker at the upstart Seattle Film Festival for his challenging, but deeply moving film My Mother Was Here. The relevance of this SDFF 2019 official selection has only grown during the COVID crisis, as the harsh economic and emotional realities of many elders, and their differential exposure to risk have been thrown into sharp relief. While Thompson’s film speaks to these larger issues, it is an intimate portrait of his mother in her later years, and his changing relationship to her. In this sense, it is also a cathartic and reflective film to watch as so many people have found their parents and grandparents taken from them without warning, leaving open so many loose ends.

My Mother Was Here is available to stream now through Vimeo-on-Demand, while Thompson’s website is home to some of his other film work and writing, including reviews of documentaries like the recently honored Dick Johnson Is Dead,(Kirsten Johnson and Nels Bangerter, 2020) and SDFF 2020 Best Feature Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen, 2020).

The warmest digital applause to East Bay filmmaker Nels Bangerter for collecting a best editing award at IDA, along with a nod for best writing with co-writer/director Kirsten Johnson for Dick Johnson Is Dead. The film also won Sundance’s Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling, and Independent Lens’ New York Times Critic’s Pick. Bangerter edited SDFF Selections Out In The Silence and Kuma Hina, both of which were written and directed by filmmaking partners and festival regulars Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. Bangerter was also a consulting editor on SDFF 2016 mini Best of Luck with the Wall (Dir. Josh Begley), a 7-minute voyage across the US-Mexico border, stitched together form 200,000+ satellite images. In addition to engaging with audiences at his films, Bangerter has been a lively figure at SDFF, consistently giving feedback at Peer Pitch and making himself available to new filmmakers. Bangerter and Johnson previously collaborated on Cameraperson (2016), another imaginative and complex piece of work that met with critical acclaim. While Dick Johnson Is Dead shares a self-reflexive quality with Cameraperson, it is also a deeply personal piece of work in which daughter/filmmaker Kirsten Johnson explores how movies can be used to grapple with some of life’s most profound experiences. Dick Johnson Is Dead was produced by Netflix and is available to stream there now.

Congratulations to Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder for Crimp Camp’s wins! Crimp Camp won the International Documentary Association Awards for Best Feature and ABC News VideoSource Award. It also garnered an honorable mention for he Pare Lorentz Award. The film was directed and produced by LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham and produced by Sara Bolder. It is a movie that we cannot recommend highly enough for the story it tells about how disability rights became common parlance in the U.S., and how to make social change. With over 170 film credits to his name, LeBrecht is a Bay Area film luminary, who founded Berkeley Sound Artists (BSA), which specializes in post production audio for documentaries and has operated for over 20 years. He was added to SF Film’s Essential List, honoring Bay Area film luminaries in 2017, has penned and published articles on sound in documentary, and given master classes in sound design for institutions like the International Documentary Association. LeBrecht has been a supporter of SDFF for many years, appearing on numerous panels, guiding and encouraging new filmmakers. He’s also composed music and done sound design on more films than we can name. His credits include the Academy Award-winning The Blood of Yingzhou District (Ruby Yang, 2006) and Emmy/Academy Award-winning shortform doc, 4.1 Miles (Daphne Matrziaraki, 2017), which is available to stream on PBS’s POV. Recent SDFF films include The Pushouts, Bathtubs Over Broadway and From Baghdad to the Bay. On top of all of his film ventures, LeBrecht has been a lifelong, ardent disability rights advocate, and it is this purpose and passion that Crip Camp captures.

Crip Camp was produced by Netflix and Higher Grounds Productions (co-founded by Michelle and Barack Obama) is available to stream now.

See Trailer Now!

 

CRIP CAMP

Congratulations to Jim LeBrecht (director/producer) and Sara Bolder (producer) whose groundbreaking directorial debut Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution has been nominated for best feature film and best director. Crip Camp reflects on a summer camp located close to Woodstock, which galvanized a group of teens with disabilities, becoming activists who would take the Country by storm, forging a path that has made the world a more equal place for everyone. LeBrecht and Bolder have been a longtime friends to SDFF, with LeBrecht designing sound, composing and scoring more of our films than we can possibly count. Crip Camp is available to stream right now on Netflix, check out the trailer here.

HUNTSVILLE STATION

Congratulations to Jaime Meltzer and Chris Filippone, whose film Huntsville Station is up for Best Short.  Huntsville Station is a meditative look at a moment of major transition as inmates released from Texas State Penitentiary encounter the small pleasures of everyday life waiting for the bus. Meltzer’s film Informant won SDFF’s jury prize in 2012. We also highly recommend True Conviction, which speaks to the present moment. See Huntsville Station here.

THE REASON I JUMP

Kudos to director Jerry Rothwell  whose film The Reason I Jump won the 2020 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Audience Award. A cinematic adaptation of a book written by 13 year-old Naoki Higashida, it seeks to create an immersive experience evocative of the lived experiences of nonspeaking autistic people. The film fuses Higashida’s insights with intimate portraits of 5 exceptional young people, each of whom experiences reality in a remarkably different way. The film evokes Rothwell’s early film and SDFF 2009 audience sneaker hit, Heavy Load, about a group of people with learning disabilities who start a punk band. Rothwell’s Sour Grapes (2017) and How To Change The World (2016) have also graced SDFF’s screens.

Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa by SDFF alums Barbara and Mike Attie and Janet Goldwater won the AFI Docs 2020 Grand Jury Short Award  and is shortlisted in IDA’s Best Short category. This documents an abortion helpline in Philadelphia, through which counselors field urgent calls from who people seek to end a pregnancy, but can’t afford to. “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa” reveals the brutal impact of the Hyde Amendment, designed to prevent those struggling financially from access to abortion. The short has particular resonance this week, as the U.S. Supreme Court banned women’s access to the “abortion pill” without an in-person physician visit. Given travel restrictions around COVID 19, the ruling makes the pill almost inaccessible to women who live in health care deserts, rural areas and states with strict abortion restrictions. All three filmmakers have shown work at SDFF. Mike Attie’s Moment To Moment was an SDFF 2020 Official Selection, In Country showed in 2014, and Mr. Mack’s Kitchen in 2010. Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater have worked together on multiple projects, including Bob’s Knee, which showed as part of SDFF 2009.

 

If the surprise Supreme Court decision and Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa  piqued your interest in the relationship between women’s health, self-determination and citizenship, you should also take a look at SDFF2020 selection Personhood: Policing Pregnant Women In America (Jo Ardinger, 2019). Personhood tells a story that ripples far beyond the right to choose and into the lives of every pregnant person in America. It focuses on Tammy Loertscher, whose fetus was given to an attorney, while the courts denied Tammy her constitutional rights. In this timely documentary, we see her sent to jail, and then forced to challenge a Wisconsin law that eroded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. Personhood reveals the danger of fetal rights laws which now exist in thirty-eight states. These little known laws encourage the surveillance and criminalization of pregnant women, while disproportionately targeting lower income women and women of color. These laws lie at the intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs, and our mass incarceration complex. Personhood is available to stream on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

2018 Doc Resonates in Present Day, Provides Context for Hillbilly Elegy Adaptation & Its Critical Reception

When Netflix delivered Ron Howard’s film adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family in Crisis to the small screen after the 2020 election, it returned the autobiographical work and the ways in which it had been used during the 2016 election to heavy public scrutiny. Though Vance has been critical of the Trump administration, the book was released amid a contentious national election, and became almost omnipresent across a diverse array of media and news outlets. In general, both book and author as “authentic” voices of the rural, working-class, conservative, white Americans whose votes put President Donald Trump into office. Ironically, the veracity of the hillbilly archetype that Vance both perpetuates and criticizes was purposefully developed and maintained across American popular culture since the 1870s. That history is made tangible in Sally Rubin and Ashley York’s 2018 documentary hillbilly, the relevance of which has only grown in the years since its release. The documentary poses questions about the relationship between representation, perception and systemic oppression that have become central to understanding American cultural and political life and personal experiences within it. As Sally Rubin, co-Director of (Sally Rubin and Ashley York, 2018) wrote to us in December:

Pop culture helps to bridge divides of all kinds (regional, socio-economic, and political divides are just a few) by helping people from different backgrounds to understand viscerally the experiences of others. Pop culture, including documentary, has the potential to bridge divides deeply and quickly, through providing examples of real people living in ways that may be unfamiliar and based on mere caricatures and stereotypes.

                                                                                                -Sally Rubin, co-Director, hillbilly

Despite Hillbilly Elegy’s relative ubiquity in 2016 as the voice of “real” America, a plurality of voices, from academics and filmmakers to cultural critics, economists and historians, among many others, took issue with the way Vance’s book, in particular its emphasis on personal responsibility as the root cause of conditions that are the direct result of long-term, systemic impoverishment and economic neglect, and its implicitly conservative narrative of class mobility, which is almost by definition an experience of privilege. In fact, if there was one thing that mainstream media outlets frequently neglected to mention early on in Hillbilly Elegy’s life in public discourse and popular culture, in early election, pre-Charlottesville days, it was Vance’s whiteness, which is significant given whiteness’s centrality to the book’s media currency.

By the time of the film’s release in Fall of 2020, straightforward discussions about stereotypical, reductive representations of race, class, gender and sexuality had become far more mainstream following a summer of almost non-stop nationwide protests against structural racism and violent white supremacy in America, which coincided with increasingly obvious income inequality thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic. Though it’s production and initial release preceded this zeitgeist, Rubin and York’s hillbilly meets the moment, takes a deep dive into the history and functions of the hillbilly archetype in American media and political discourse, and is an excellent primer on the emergence of the hillbilly as an American icon with political valences that continue to impact those living in Appalachia, from the rural South to the Rust Belt. The film is also part of a growing, and increasingly visible, counter-narrative of Appalachia’s historic diversity, which has been so well whitewashed that the region’s denizens have become synonymous in pop culture with the specifically white, rural figure of the hillbilly.

To some extent, the documentary’s relevance and (hopefully) evolving critical attitudes towards stereotyping and the importance of unpacking problematic representation is evident in Variety’s decision to give hillbilly co-director Ashley York a guest column, “How ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Proves the Need for More Diverse Stories About Appalachia” to respond to Hillbilly Elegy’s release. Rather than raking Howard’s adaptation over the coals, York takes the opportunity to reflect on her own work, and what she perceives as its shortcomings from her current perspective. She writes:

Our movie is far from perfect. It is a glimpse into a broad range of intersectional issues, ideas, coalitions, movements, and conversations, that are all equally deserving of attention in the media space. I will forever regret its inability to interrogate racism on a deeper level and to examine the consequences of capitalism on communities like the one where I grew up in eastern Kentucky. I recognize how whiteness informed our perspective and how we could have been more inclusive in our effort to involve Black and indigenous collaborators.

-Ashley York, hillbilly co-director, Variety*

While York expresses regrets about elements of the documentary that could have more deeply examined how race informed filmmaking and the cultural and political work done by the figure of the hillbilly, the film nonetheless spends a significant portion of its time showing people obscured by the whiteness and implicit heteronormativity of the hillbilly stereotype. Aside from being reductive, and frequently offensive, this figure also works to exclude black, brown and indigenous people from being represented at all, much less those who aren’t easily discerned visually like LGBTQIA+ folks or feminists. All are erased by a public and political discourse that not only prioritizes white voices, but is also so fixated on the “authenticity” of a stereotypical figuration of whiteness that it erases everyone else from public discourse at a pivotal time in regional and national history.

One of the ways hillbilly clearly interrupts the ubiquitous, homogenizing view of Appalachians is in its depiction of Appalachian Black folks, from intersectional feminist powerhouse and poet bel hooks to poet and spoken word artist Crystal Good, who has penned an excellent response to Hillbilly Elegy,Behind the Scenes in Black Appalachia, to author Silas House and “the always brilliant” Frank X Walker, who coined the term “Affrilachia”  to describe the pervasiveness and importance of Black people and culture in the region.

While York and Rubin depict a diverse, artistic version of Appalachia, the filmmakers do not present an overly florid picture of the region, nor do they shrink from representing the economic devastation the region has weathered. Instead, they prioritize explaining social and economic conditions, their history, and their relationship to representations of Appalachia in general, and of the hillbilly stereotype in particular. One of the more effective historical points recounted in hillbilly explains how the figure of the hillbilly proliferated during the Depression, becoming iconic in the photos of Dorothea Lange, which were then put to political use, creating public pathos for the New Deal. The film shows how iconography from that period has seen surprisingly little change over the years, remaining a constant in America’s cultural imaginary, from Deliverance to the 2016 conservative fantasy of an all-white, rural working class. Explains co-Director Rubin,

In the case of Appalachia, over a century of regional stereotypes (many of which are explored in our film, hillbilly) has worn deep grooves into the psyche of many Americans; the pre-formulated stereotypes are so ingrained they’re almost imperceptible. That’s where those stereotypes get so dangerous, when we don’t even know they’re there. Unraveling these stereotypes and rebuilding in their place more nuanced and multi-dimensional perceptions of the region takes time and conscious, pointed messaging. This is certainly what we aimed to do with hillbilly; to put a multi-faceted and diverse set of faces on a formerly homogeneous and simplified stereotype of the region, while simultaneously unraveling and teasing out how that stereotype had been so solidly constructed.

-Sally Rubin, hillbilly co-director

It’s not just that the mobilization of this imagery is exploitative. It is. But, the insistence on its authenticity is also a way of negating the experiences of Appalachian people who do not fit that mold exactly, most egregiously, the experiences and lives of Appalachian black folks.

This history of problematic and pervasive representation hillbilly tracks not only diminishes the region’s culture and history, and degrades its denizens in the national imaginary and in political discourse, it explores the how these stereotypes are reflected back at Appalachian communities and people in extremely damaging ways. York describes the shame she experienced while watching her home reflected back at her for the first time on television at 9 years old. This experience was the impetus for making hillbilly decades later. She recalls watching Dan Rather host a 1989 special edition of 48 Hours Another America,” which was filmed one town over from where she lived:

Everything about that program — from the images of the broken-down cars to the condescending tone of the faceless narrator — made me feel shame. The program even added banjo to the “48 Hours” theme, a familiar cue for the viewer signaling they are entering a place that exists outside of place and time.

-Ashley York, hillbilly co-director, Variety*

York’s description of the imagery and the program’s presentation as a whole, including its terrifying timelessness, resonates with the ways in which the hillbilly stereotype she and Rubin excavate appears to have an almost mythological temporality, permanent and absolute. The sense of time York describes feels essential to the complicated way that a symbol intentionally fashioned to be derogatory and dismissive can be, and has been, positioned as America’s most authentic expression of citizenship. At the same time, this damaging stereotype has also worked to occlude difference and render vibrant, diverse communities in Appalachia invisible in popular culture and public and political discourse. The work of media excavation and analysis done in hillbilly is one way of restoring temporality to a stereotype that has been made to appear permanent, giving it a history and context that defy its apparent intransigence, and in doing so, begin to render it vulnerable to change.

*Quote used with the permission of the author. Full Variety column can be found here.