By Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON – Filmmakers Shane Simmons and Jason Barton have teamed up to create a documentary showcasing a more positive side of Appalachia.
Simmons spoke with the Daily News on Thursday regarding the project, which aims to give the world a more positive view of Appalachia by relying on interviews with locals who know from experience what being an Appalachian native is like.
“Our biggest goal is to fight the stereotypes of people who like the simple lifestyle here in the Appalachia area and to respond to the idea that people in our area are simple and ignorant, when this is a lifestyle choice that we enjoy,” Simmons said. “We will be doing a series of documentaries about senior citizens in Appalachia, mostly age 80 and up, and interviewing them about their experiences.”
Simmons said he is looking for people specifically in the Mingo County area who are older and have a story to tell.
“We want to know what it was like for them growing up and how much things have changed, the culture and background of the area they live in and stories from their lives. It’s a great opportunity for the good storytellers out there to be heard, and it is also a great opportunity for the families because they receive a taped copy of the interview.”
Simmons, who has spent a lot of time in West Virginia (holding a job in Matewan for a period of time), says he is familiar with the area and wants to portray Mingo County in a positive light.
“Mingo County is part of the heart of Appalachia. People here have stories that need to be told. We want to give these wonderful storytellers the chance to share their past with us.”
Simmons said the way Appalachia has been portrayed in the media bothers him and he wants to make a change.
“We all see the stereotypical stuff about poverty, drug addiction, lack of education and other negative things about our area in the media,” Simmons said. “Well, anyone who lives here knows that is not the whole picture. There are other things going on, and that portrayal of our area doesn’t tell the whole story. The negative slant to our people is offensive, and we just want to tell the whole story.”
Simmons said he feels fortunate that people have felt comfortable opening up to him and sharing their stories.
“People know us and know where our heart is at,” Simmons said. “Because we are from Appalachia, we have credibility on our side. People trust us. They give us more details and open up to us more. Other people come in here and have good intentions, but you know how Appalachian people are. We don’t trust just anyone and we don’t open up to just anyone. We are good guys and have good intentions, so people have opened up to us and actually shared with us things they wouldn’t share with their own family.”
Simmons and Barton have interviewed individuals from Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. They have also considered the possibility of writing a book for individuals who may not be good at telling their story, to give them a chance to be heard as well.
Simmons said he is hopeful that older people in the Mingo County area will respond to the call and offer their voice to support the documentary, and says the process of creating the film has been a wonderful experience for him and Barton.
Anyone interested in being interviewed for the documentary can go to the official Facebook page for the Appalachian Project at www.facebook.com/AppalachianProject, or contact the TAP team at AppalachianProject@hotmail.com.