Ten Best Indie Feature Films 
Made in West Virginia

December 2002

Steve Fesenmaier
Research Librarian
West Virginia Library Commission

During the last 100 years of cinema, many filmmakers, both in-state and out-of-state, have come to WV. I was told that Indian filmmakers have used the Hare Krishna temple in Moundsville for a feature film. I was also told that Italian filmmakers used the Green Bank Radio Telescope for a feature film. I have yet to track those two films down, but since 1978 I have been involved in many of the independent feature films made in the state. I have included as wide a selection as I could, ranking them based on overall “quality.” Daniel Boyd has two other feature films not listed. There is a new feature, Burning Annie, that has not yet been exhibited. During the last few years, other feature films have been made in the state, like Antler Boy and an indie version of Mothman. I saw Antler, but it has disappeared totally. I never saw Mothman, even though I know that a video copy exists. The films listed below ARE AVAILABLE – except for the two newest, CORRECT CHANGE and SEVEN TO MIDNIGHT. Hopefully PatchWork Films in Lewisburg will eventually distribute them on DVD and VHS as well as Ray Schmitt’s THE LIGHTS.

1.  MATEWAN (1987) John Sayles, the single most famous independent feature film director in this country, came to WV in 1983. For four years he raised the money, getting most of it from Bruce Springsteen, and finally shot the film in Thurmond and other locals in the state. It is widely considered to be the greatest labor history film ever made, and is now being re-released by IFC as part of a nationwide series of showings of films by Sayles.

2.  WHATEVER (1998) Susan Skoog grew up in the 1980s in New Jersey, but she found that Wheeling looked just right for her coming-of-age film. The producer, Michelle Yahn, grew up in the town. The film had its only WV screening at the WV International Film Festival. 

3.  CORRECT CHANGE (2002) Directed by Mike Lilly, a native of Charleston, this is the newest film on the list. It took Lilly several years to actually film it, shooting part in Moundsville, and then flashback scenes in Charleston and other WV locations. It has been shown in Charleston, Moundsville, and Beckley. Everyone who worked on the film is from WV, including stars Mollie Brown, Russ McCubbin, Michael Martin, and the crew.

4.  THE TURNING (1997) Lou Puopolo, assistant director of Field of Dreams (1987), directed this film version of the play Home Fires Burning. It was made on the WV/VA border in Pocahontas, Virginia. It is the story of a Tim McVeigh - style racist who returns home from 4 years of racial warfare to see his family. The star was Gillian Anderson, star of The X Files. Puopolo came to Charleston in 1998 to introduce the film. Karen Allen, Tess Harper, and other TV and Hollywood people acted.

5.  PARADISE PARK (or Heroes of the Heart) 1991. WV filmmaker Daniel Boyd directed two previous independent films, Chillers and Invasion of the Space Preachers. This film stars musician Larry Groce, silent film star Lina Basquette, and several other well-known country music singers, including Johnny Paycheck, Dusty Rhodes, Porter Wagoner, and Webb Wilder. An elderly resident of an Appalachian trailer park wakes up one morning with a vision that God will visit the park later that evening and grant all the tenants a wish. The love-hate relationship this memorable group of wonderful characters have with their impoverished existence surfaces, in funny, often bittersweet ways, as the effects of floods, unemployment and family strife trigger fantasies of love, wealth, elaborate song and dance numbers, and dreams of what's yet to be.

6.  NO DRUMS, NO BUGLES (1971) Hollywood director and screenwriter Clyde Ware returned home to Doddridge County to make this first of two WV-based indie feature films. The star was a then unknown Martin Sheen, who had turned down the starring role in The Graduate. This film is based on the true story of a local man who evaded the Civil War by living in a local cave. Ware has directed 15 films, including one of TV’s best films, Coward of the County. He returned home in spring 2001 to film the screenplay of Rough Diamonds, based on a story by Martin Sheen. 

7.  TEENAGE STRANGLER (1965) This is the state’s first indie feature film, and one of the first truly indie horror films ever made. The first Encyclopedia of Psychotronic Movies has a very positive review. Even though it was made in Huntington, locals refused to show it, so it ran across the river in Ohio at a drive-in theater. It was finally officially shown in WV on Halloween, 1990, at the St. Albans Public Library. A few years later it was finally screened in Huntington. It was re-issued on a DVD with TEENAGE GANG DEBS in 2001. 

8.  FROM SEVEN TO MIDNIGHT (2002) Scott Martin directed this film in his native Princeton, WV, using other WV locations, including Charleston and Pipestem State Park. The film premiered at the Fall West Virginia International Film Festival 2002. Martin now lives in Chicago and is trying to get the film entered in film festivals around the country. 

9.  WRESTLING WITH GOD (1990) Jerry L. Jackson, a native of Iowa, filmed this movie about the real life of one of America’s greatest religious leaders, Alexander Campbell. He founded Bethany College and the largest American-based religion, the Disciples of Christ. Only part of the film was made in WV, but it is important for the many members of the Disciples.  

10. THE LIGHTS (2002) Ray Schmitt, a Washington, DC based filmmaker for more than twenty years, directed his first feature film in Hardy County, WV. Ray shows locals talking about the amazing lights - based on many sightings of local UFOs - and introduces us to two female visitors who get more than they expected.

Additional AppLit Resources: 
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Film

Steve Fesenmaier's Annotated Bibliographies of West Virginia and Appalachian Films

See Also:

Appalachian Film and Television Topics
Dr. Stephen D. Mooney, Instructor, Department of English and Appalachian Studies Program, has compiled a list of film and television shows for his Appalachian Studies Classes at Virginia Tech, VA.   

Appalshop For a complete catalog, contact the Appalshop Marketing and Sales Office at 1-800-545-7467 or appalshopsales@appalshop.org.

Davenport Films and From the Brothers Grimm  
American versions of classic folk and fairy tales, many Appalachian.  Davenport has also made many other Appalachian films.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
, Huntington, WV

Press release from September 9, 2002, entitled “World premier screenings at Flooded Out Film Festival
All proceeds from Oct. 10 event go to flood victims”

West Virginia Film Makers 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.


West Virginia Filmmakers Guild 

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.



Created:  12/06/2002
Last Update:  07/07/2003 12:40:05 PM
Links Checked:  07/07/2002