Saturday, September 21, 2013

Taking a Look at the Other Side at Appalachian Film Festival By Donnie Johnson ENGL 336

          September 19, 2013. Compton Science Center, room 226.  Mass Communications professor Dr. Boehm takes the podium and speaks to the 60-70 people in attendance. Dr. Boehm goes on to talk about Appalshop and Anne Lewis, the makers of the two films about to be shown, calling them her favorite filmmakers, "due to the fact that they always tackle social issues". As Dr. Boehm takes her seat, the lights are dimmed and the projection screen comes to life. The 2013 Appalachian Film Festival has begun.
          After this, this first film, Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, begins. The film tells the story about journalist and civil rights activist Anne Braden and how that despite growing up white in a racist and classist Jim Crowe south, she rejected the ideas of segregation and challenged it at its core. Everyone in attendance was hanging onto Anne’s every word as she discussed how her activism put herself, as well as her family, in constant danger. More than a few gasps were heard when Anne told the story of Andrew Wade. Andrew Wade was a black man who was denied the purchase of a home in an all-white neighborhood because of the color of his skin. Because of this, Andrew gave the money to Anne and her husband Carl, who purchased the home for him. After moving into the all-white neighborhood, tension rose. Rocks and bricks were thrown through the windows, shots were fired at the house, and it all climaxed with a stick of dynamite being thrown into the home. The backlash did not stop there for Anne, however. After the house was destroyed, Anne and her husband were charged with sedition (fueling race tensions to promote Communism and overthrow the government), and later on were indicted for actually destroying the house. When discussing how the nation viewed Anne and her husband, she said, “We were traitors to our race, we were traitors to our country, we were Communists, we were evil, we were the devil”. Anne and her activist companions, however, used the attacks on them as a platform to reach more people. Even after losing her young daughter Anita to a rare heart and lung disorder, she continued fight for civil rights. As the Ku Klux Klan was rising, Anne called reverse discrimination (the idea of “blacks were getting everything and whites were getting nothing”) dangerous, defined racism as a systemic danger, and called out people in power on having a scapegoat mentality. Even after the death of her husband Carl in 1975, she kept challenging the system. Even up until her dying day in 2006, during the film’s end, she continued the fight for what she believed in. 
          After this film, there was a five minute break. Students in attendance wasted no time discussing what they took away from the film. Social Work major Joseph Boursiquot said he thought that it was “Interesting how Anne Braden went through so much for people who had nothing to do with her, but she still fought for them”. He also went on to say, “Things take time; take patience. You get through one stage, then another, then another, and even today we aren’t done, racism still exists.” 
          As the intermission was ending, everyone still in the Compton Center (about ¾ of the audience had left after the first movie), took their seats for the final film of the evening, Morristown: In the Air and Sun. The film tells the story of how globalization has affected towns such as Morristown, Tennessee and the Mexican community, and how the two have more in common than they realize. The story begins with Morristown factory workers describing their displeasure with their jobs being outsourced to foreign countries and blaming the Mexicans who cross the border for taking their jobs. The workers also discuss how they have to give up wages and benefits just to keep their jobs. The film then shows a few of the workers going to Mexico to see the locals working their former jobs. Due to the free falling devalue of the Peso, as well as Mexico’s small hold on the agriculture market being destroyed, many of the people illegally run north so they can survive. They face 12-14 hour shifts with no breaks, extremely unsanitary conditions, and intense discrimination, just so they can send money back home to the families they left behind. The film also shows the Mexican community’s point of view. They are frustrated with having to take the jobs that Americans don’t want, considering them to be lazy. They are also angry with how they feel as though they are slaves to America. One woman interviewed stated that she had absolutely, “no hope for the future. This is all the future holds for me and my family”. After returning home, the Morristown workers are outraged once more, but this time at the factory owners instead of the Mexican workers. They are angry with how the factories exploit the Latino community and treat them like slaves, not hard workers, and how this exploitation is also forcing people out of jobs. The Morristown and Mexican workers then turn to the unions to help gain equality. The film ends with the two groups of workers joining together, after walking a mile in each other’s shoes, to ensure that everyone receives their basic human rights in the workplace. 
     As the final film came to a close, the remaining people in attendance rushed to get out the door due to the late hour (10PM), but it was obvious that some important life lessons were learned that night. These two films showed that you have to be diligent to make change, and that you have to view more than one perspective to get the whole story. Anne Braden: Southern Patriot and Morristown: In the Air and Sun are two films that everyone should watch at least once. As the students rushed out the door, and the projection screen turned off, it became clear that the Appalachian Film Festival may have ended, but the impact had not.

For more information on Appalshop, the makers of these films, visit

No comments: