Than Fifty Movie Places
June 24, 2003
1. The most interesting place to
visit in WV cinematically is Moundsville and its neighborhood. More
films were made in the prison and around it than any other place – The
Night of the Hunter was partially filmed along the Ohio River;
the entire Fool’s Parade was filmed there in the prison itself and the neighborhood, and most recently Correct
Change was filmed partially inside the prison. (See info on New
2. Thurmond, and other locals in Fayette County, were used to make John Sayle’s film Matewan between 1984 and 1986. Thanks to this film the train station was rebuilt after it burned down, and interest in WV’s industrial history has grown. There is also a unique documentary on the place – Thurmond, about the handful of people who live in the small ghost town.
3. New Martinsville’s
riverbank and local buildings were used for filming WV’s first
Hollywood film, Stage Struck, in 1925. The star was Gloria
Swanson, the most famous female movie star in the world. Recently MOMA
in NYC showed a restored copy of this film for the first time. Well
known political writer H. John Roger’s father was an extra in the
film, and Goldenseal published a long article about the filming
in its Spring 2002 edition.
4. Travel to the famous town of Harper’s Ferry, used by at least two Hollywood film companies to produce their films – Pudden’head Wilson in 1985, a film version of Mark Twain’s last novel, still in print after all these years, and last year’s blockbuster Gods and Generals, the story of WV native Stonewall Jackson.
5. Visit Greenbrier County, called Greenstream County in the first film about WV – 1921 Tol’able David directed by Henry King. You would have to go to Blue Grass, Virginia, near Monterey, VA for the actual site of the film. The film is about evil WVians, the Hatburns, who come over the mountain to terrorize the Kinemons, including David Kinemon. The film set the precedent for the evil bloodthirsty WVians and showed the Virginians as gentlefolk – perhaps the opposite of most of history.
6. Visit Hinton, WV where the
John Henry Museum exists. There are many films about John Henry,
including several popular animated films. Several years ago Disney came
to the state and did a new animation based on WV quilts for its John
Henry episode of its American Legends videotape that included its
classic animated tales of Johnny Appleseed and others.
7. Go to Doddridge County and West Union. Clyde Ware, still living, made a living for decades writing Hollywood westerns and directing independent films. He directed two indie feature films, No Drums, No Bugles and When the Line Goes Through in his home county of Doddridge County, both starring an unknown actor by the name of Martin Sheen.
8. Visit Coalwood, McDowell County, where the film October Sky actually took place. Read the book it’s based on, Rocket Boys, which is much better than the film. The film is excellent, though, and won many awards for being so humanistic.
9. Drive a few miles to Bluefield, the hometown of John Nash, the hero of A Beautiful Mind. You can also visit the minor league baseball stadium, the setting for the documentary Minor League.
10. Visit Pt. Pleasant, the home of the Mothman as shown in the recent Richard Gere film, The Mothman Chronicles.
11. Drive to Weirton and other local small towns like Mingo Junction, the sites of Reckless and The Deer Hunter. There is also a great feature documentary about the steel industry called The Great Weirton Steal, about large corporations raiding their employees retirement funds.
12. Visit Huntington High School where the evil janitor from Teenage Strangler worked in WV’s first indie feature film.
13. Kanawha State Forest where parts of Chillers was filmed by Danny Boyd and his WV crew. Visit other places in Kanawha County where Boyd made his other two feature films, Invasion of the Space Preachers and Paradise Park.
9. Visit Back Creek, VA to see the old shed and the horse barn where the Galford Lumber Co. was located before they moved to Northfield, MA, documented in BJ Gudmundsson’s Out of the Storm. At one time the Galford Lumber Co. was located in Green Bank, Pocahontas County. Also visit the Radio Telescope which is the subject of two documentaries – The Invisible Universe and a new one coming out – Green Bank – the Center of the Universe.
10. Marlinton, WV – home of the Pocahontas County Times – where B.J. Gudmundsson has filmed her next film #30 – The Life and Times of Cal Price.
11. The Kanawha City Mall – where the Glass Factory was that Bob Gates chronicled in his Twelve Tall Stacks.
12. Have dinner at Southern Kitchen where one scene from Correct Change was filmed; play pool and have a few beers where the pretty girl scene was shot at Murads – and where the very first public showing was. And visit the Elk River Holiday Inn, the site of much of the action in Correct Change.
13. Watch a film at the WVSC Capitol Center – the Jewish Film Series, the two festivals put on by the WVIFF, or a monthly Splice It Up event.
14. Watch a film at the Landmark Studio for the Arts during the annual WV Filmmakers Film Festival in October or down the street at the Elk Theater, possibly showing a restored WV film masterpiece like last year’s The Night of the Hunter or this year’s Matewan.
15. Go to WV’s first, and only, micro-cinema in Buckhannon – the Lascaux Micro-Theater in downtown Buckhannon.
16. Watch a film at the Star Theater in Berkeley Springs or the Opera House in Shepherdstown – two of the oldest theaters in the state.
17. Or watch a film in the oldest continuous movie house in America – the Robey Theater in downtown Spencer.
18. Or watch a film at the largest movie palace still operated in WV – the Keith-Albee Theater, newly restored.
19. And finally, for watching films, check out the Town Gate Theater in Olgebay Park, Wheeling.
20. Visit Destiny Images in Scott Depot where Jamie Cope and his friend make some of the best pre-school animation in the world, like Letter TV.
21. Visit Motion Masters near the Yeager Airport, the largest commercial filmmaking company in the state. These are the people who made the film on Leon Sullivan and are making a new documentary on Senator Byrd.
22. Visit the Paradise Film Institute at West Virginia State College in Institute, home to Daniel Boyd and his colleagues, including Stephen Gilliland, a leading animator, and Dr. Marc Porter, head of the computer film lab. Soon they will offer WVSC’s first MA program.
23. Stop by Omni Studios in downtown Charleston, home to Robert Gates, WV, leading environmentalist filmmaker.
24. Go to Huntington and spend time with Witek & Novak, for ten years two filmmakers making great films about Marshall football, Blenko Glass, and other topics of interest.
25. Visit the new Clay Center’s mini-Imax movie theater, the first Imax theater in WV.
26. Visit the chemical plants of the Kanawha Valley, as shown in Appalshop’s award-winning film, Chemical Valley. There are other films also showing the chemical plants – The Betrayal of Bhopal by Granada TV and others. Visit the mound in South Charleston where Union Carbide workers rallied in support of Carbide, NOT the people who died and were devastated by the worst industrial accident in history.
27. Travel to New Vrindabin, the Hare Krishna temple outside of Moundsville. Jacob Young, famous for Dancing Outlaw, made a three-hour documentary about the Swami convicted of murder, in his Holy Cow, Swami! Other films have been made about the Temple including an Indian feature film, Pardes.
28. In Charleston you should meet the McGraw Brothers, originally from Wyoming County. Now one is the state attorney general, Darrell McGraw, and his brother, Warren, is on the Supreme Court. The 1977 documentary If Elected, made by Wayne Ewing, is about Warren’s campaign for the state senate.
29. Jolo, McDowell County, is the site for the best-known film ever made about serpent handling. Karen Kramer came from NYC in 1976 to film The Jolo Serpent Handlers, her first film. Since then she has made many other documentaries, including one about Maya Deren.
30. Visit Lincoln County, Hamlin, the birthplace of Chuck Yeager. Yeager is the hero of the film The Right Stuff as played by Sam Shepard. There is a bust of Yeager in front of the high school he attended. The local airport in Charleston is named Yeager Airport after him.
31. Visit the Elk Hotel in Sutton where the new horror film by Kevin Carpenter, co-founder of the WVFFF, directed his first film. He plans on showing it every year on Halloween.
32. Go to Bethany College, founded by Alexander Campbell. He co-founded the largest religion born in America, the Disciples of Christ. An Iowa film director made a docudrama about his life, Wrestling for God. Also, both stars of the Coen Brothers Oscar winning film, Fargo, – Frances McDormand and William H. Macy. Visit Wheeling, used to replace New Jersey in the sixties in the film Whatever. Also, see Ellis Dungan’s Wheeling 1959 – Wheels to Progress.
33. Right outside of Bluefield, WV, right on the border of the two states, Pocahontas, VA, Gillian Anderson starred in her first film, The Turning.
34. Visit the aluminum plant in Ravenswood, Jackson County. This is the site of a film by double Oscar winner Barbara Kopple who first came to WV as a student at Morris Harvey. She latter directed Harlan County, USA, that has been called the most influential documentary made in the US since WWII. She also won an Oscar for her film about the Hormel meat-packing plant in Austin, MN. in American Dream. She came to Ravenswood to make her film Locked Out in America. The workers at the Aluminum plant, once owned by Marc Rich, the man President Clinton pardoned near the end of his term in office, were locked out by the owners.
35. Travel US Route 60, which is also traveled in 1929 by one of our state’s first amateur filmmakers, Rev. Otis Snodgrass, who filmed it for his documentary, West Virginia, the Beautiful. A part of this film was made available in a DVD collection called Treasurers of American Film Archives.
36. Grafton has an early indie documentary about it by Peter Griesinger – Almost Heaven, Grafton, WV.
37. Shepherdstown is the location for many documentaries by native son Jim Surkamp who has made profiles about other locals including James Rumsey, father of the steam boat; Danske Dandrige, 19th century historian and garden writer; and W. W. Wady, an early railroad person. He also made a film about Charles Town. The Jefferson County Historical Society made a nice profile of the entire county in Between the Potomac and Shennahoah.
38. Visit the WV Schools for the Blind and Deaf in Romney. WV’s most prolific filmed author, Margaret Prescott Montague, had one of her novels turned into a Disney film, Amy.
39. Visit the Kanawha County Board of Education building near the capitol in Charleston. In 1969 local fundamentalists dynamited the façade of the building. This revolt against humanism is one of the key events in US history since WW II. There is an indie doc, Books Our Children Read, and a PBS doc, With God on Our Side- the Rise of the Religious Right in America.
40. One of the most famous places to visit in WV is Hillsboro, the home of Pearl S. Buck. In 1992 WVPBS station manager Donn Rogosin produced the only feature documentary about her in East Wind, West Wind – the Life of Pearl Buck.
41. Madison, Boone County, has two local celebrities connected to it – Jesco White and Hasil Atkins. Check out the Appalshop film about the Haz – The Wild and Wacky World of Hasil Adkins and WV’s most famous biographical film, Dancing Outlaw. Outlaw appears in the Haz film as well as his own bio. See also Talking Feet distributed by Les Blank’s Flower Films. Jesco White’s dad, one of the great mountain tap dancers, is in it.
42. The Lilly Brothers of Beckley were profiled in the 1979 doc, True Facts…In A Country Song. Susan Burt and Doug Chadwick made this film, traveling to Boston to record them. They are known around the world for their bluegrass music.
43. In Parkersburg one of the oldest religious institutions in our state existed – the DeSales Heights Academy of the Visitation. Tommie Dell Smith, an Oscar winner from California, and Susan Pointon, from New Zealand, made two films about the closing of this school – The Silent Heart and Breaking Silence. The latter was chosen as the “best adult video of the year” by Booklist magazine and is distributed by New Day Films.
44. The Ohio River is profiled in a PBS documentary, A River Called Ohio. It has footage of the floods that hit Huntington and shows several river towns in WV.
45. Whitesville, Boone County, is the home of several women who returned to live. Connie Marks, an Oscar winner, made this film Return to Appalachia in 1983.
46. James Rutenbeck profiled Widen, Clay County, in his first film, Company Town. Rutenbeck has made many films since, working fulltime as an editor for WGBH’s American Experience. Bob Gates made a film about the music festival in Ivydale, Clay County, once promoted by the Morris Brothers.
47. The New River is the subject of two documentaries – Wayne Sourbeer’s The New River – Older Than Time and The Oldest New River. There is also a film about rock climbing in the New River Gorge and one on just the gorge, and a classic film made by US Steel about building the bridge – until recently the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world. And Sourbeer made a film about Mary Ingles who traveled along the New River.
48. Kayford Mountain in Kanawha County is the site of Robert Gates’ first film on mountaintop removal – Trip to Kayford Mountain. This mountain has also appeared on Ted Kopple’s Nightline episode on MTR and other films and numerous local TV stories about the effects of MTR on a family homestead, and in particular, a family cemetery.
49. Montgomery, Fayette County, was the home of an unusual apartment shown in the psychotronic portrait of Albert Michael Weber in Robert Gates’ film Communication from Weber.
50. Raleigh County was the site of one of the first films ever made about strip-mining – Before the Mountain Was Moved. (1971) Recently Appalshop used a clip of this film in their history of the anti-strip mine movement, In Memory of Land and People.
51. In Spencer there was a baseball factory that was moved to Haiti. This move is profiled in the movie, Bitter Cane.
52. Malden, Kanawha County, is the hometown of Booker T. Washington. His childhood is profiled in Booker, and his complete life in Booker T. Washington, the Life and Legacy. The first has been in print since it was made in 1983 by Stan Lanham. The second is by leading African-American filmmaker William Greaves.
53. Buffalo Creek, in Logan County, was the site of one of the worst flood disasters in American history. Appalshop of Whitesburg, KY. made two films about this – the original Buffalo Creek 1972 – An Act of Man and Buffalo Creek Revisited in 1984.
54. Charleston is the site of many documentaries and fictional films. These include Charleston the Beautiful on the Kanawha, 1932, The Magic Valley, Gates’ Building a Cello with Harold, and the biography of Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Crumb in George Crumb – Voice of the Whale.
55. Nicholas County was the site of two Civil War battles – Keslers Cross Lanes and Carnifex Ferry. They were recreated and shown in the film Civil War Weekend.
56. The Meadow Bridge Drive-In in Fayette County has the smallest and lowest priced admission of any WV theater. http://www.driveinmovie.com/WV.htm
57. More from Pocahontas County – in WVPBS’ series, two of their Different Drummers were made here – portraits of Dr. William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries in Jacob Young’s Doctor No, and a portrait of Patch Adams and his Gesundheit Institute in Dreams of Gesundheit. Of course, there was the popular film starring Robin Williams about him called Patch.
58. Weston State Hospital was recently filmed in a feature documentary about the WV-raised portrait of singer/songwriter/artists Daniel Johnston. Weston was also used to do an interview with Merle Moore in the film about Gray Barker, Whispers from Space. It was referred to in the recent Charleston/Moundsville film Correct Change but was not actually used.
59. . Farmington, Marion County, was the site of the worst coal mine disaster in US history. A film called Valley of Darkness was filmed there, hosted by Sander Vanocer. Also, the A&E Network did a one-hour special on the calamity.
60. Elkins resident musician, writer, and filmmaker Gerry Milnes has made several films about people who live in Elkins and surrounding communities – Fiddles, Snakes, and Dog Days: Old-Time Music and Lore in West Virginia, and several others, all available from the Augusta Heritage Workshop where he is the Assistant Director.
61. Martinsburg was substituted for Winchester, VA, in the biography of country music legend Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. This is one of the best films ever about a country singer, along with Coal Miner’s Daughter. Cline’s Stand By Your Man was recently picked as the greatest country western song of all time.
62. Stop by the Dunbar Public Library where Steve Fesenmaier and Frani Stone got married on St. Pat’s Day 1980 with famous filmmaker Les Blank as “best man.” Supreme Court Chief Justice Darrell McGraw presided – and a New Orleans feast and three hours of films were shown. The wedding finished up at the Red Carpet on the East End. The honeymooners saw All that Jazz before almost being robbed in a downtown hotel and then spending a night at the Greenbrier Resort where they were indeed robbed – a gold chain was stolen.
63. Visit the building in South Charleston now the home of the WV Film Office. In that building Cambridge Educational, one of the largest educational video/DVD/poster companies in the world, sent out millions of catalogs, produced hundreds of in-state educational films, etc. from approximately 1990-2000. It was the closest thing to a movie studio that ever existed in the state.
64. Visit to real celebrities in Charleston – Russ McCubbin, a long-time movie actor who recently was the star of Correct Change and visit Ken Hechler, author of the book one of the best WWII movies is based upon – The Bridge at Remegan. He was recently flown to DC to do a story on the favorite films of President Truman.
65. Visit Flatwoods- the hill where the Flatwoods Monster landed, overlooking Flatwoods. The Monster inspired Gray Barker who is profiled in Whispers From Space.
66. Travel to Blair Mountain in Logan County. One of the first films about the WV Mine Wars, Even the Heavens Weep, is about this area. Recently Sasha Waters made a film about people in Pigeon Roost, near
Blair, who fought mountaintop removal in Razing Appalachia.
67. Jean Battlo, a leading WV playwright, worked with Daniel Boyd to make a recreation of our most famous “lost film,” Smilin Sid, actually filmed in Mingo and McDowell Counties, where Smilin Sid Hatfield lived and died.
68. Last but not least – visit the Gray Barker Collection at the Clarksburg Public Library. Visit various sites around town and look for the drive-in he ran. He is profiled in Whispers from Space – one of the most funky bios of anyone ever made.
Sources of Information:
My Graffiti column for the last 10 years, “Film Nuts,” has documented more WV films than any other source.
My annual “New Films on WV and Appalachia” that appeared in Goldenseal magazine from 1979-99 and resumed in spring 2002.
The website for the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins
Additional AppLit Resources:
Films and From the Brothers Grimm
release from September 9, 2002, entitled “World premier screenings at
Flooded Out Film Festival
Winning Festival Films, background information on the first festival, local history, links to sponsors, links to information on film such as The Griffin and the Minor Canon, The Night of the Hunter, Invasion of the Space Preachers, etc.
The West Virginia Filmmakers Guild was created in 1985 to provide networking and communication between West Virginia film and video makers and those interested in these crafts in West Virginia. Central to its mission is educating the public and promoting West Virginia filmmakers and their films to the public.