by Mike Templeton
With thoughts and memories still percolating from the Express Urban Appalachia Showcase, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to a recent showing of the film The Mountain Minor. The film, written and directed by Dale Farmer, features Ma Crow, who also appeared in the Showcase, and Mike Oberst from The Tillers. The Mountain Minor dramatizes many of the ideas and issues of particular concern for the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition.
The experience of Appalachian migrant families, our contemporary connections to those experiences, and the way all of this is represented make up the themes of The Mountain Minor. The film centers on Charlie Abner as he considers returning to his Appalachian roots in Kentucky and portrays his family’s history through flashbacks. We meet Charlie as an adult, played by Mike Oberst, as he plays fiddle with his band at the Southgate House Revival. As the camera zooms in on a tattoo on Charlie’s arm, we are lifted into the past, to rural Kentucky.
As we in Cincinnati take stock of our heritage and history that lives to this day in the flow of urban Appalachian migrant experience, this film dramatizes these themes by focusing on one family as they are confronted with the difficult decision to leave all that they have known in the mountains for a new life in nearby urban areas in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan.
Traditional music plays a central role in the film, and the entire cast is made up of professional musicians rather than actors. I asked Dale Farmer why he cast musicians instead of actors, and he explained, “This is an Appalachian Music film, it was most important that the music be authentic.” The authenticity of the music was so important to Dale that he recorded everything live rather than pre-recording in a studio and having the musicians/actors play along while filming.
In making the film and through his association with the UACC, Dale says that he became more acutely aware of how much his Appalachian roots shape who he is today. The Mountain Minor is likely to provide a similar awareness for others. As Dale says, his hope is that the film will reach people in personal ways. The resurgence in interest in roots and Appalachian music is just one part of a greater awareness of the Appalachian tradition. Dale told me he sees “such a desire to connect with the roots of the music and in seeing the film people can gain insight into its past and into the life of one typical Appalachian migrant family.” The film truly does capture in microcosm the movement from the old life far from the city to the modern world of urban Appalachians as they hold onto and re-invent Appalachian culture.
It is this drive for authenticity that pervades the film. Dale points out that “the film industry and media, in general, has misrepresented the Appalachian culture for as long as I can remember.” There is a clear need to represent Appalachia and Appalachian culture in a way that is true to the complexities and realities of our heritage. Dale explains clearly that he “made this film to show the positive side of our heritage in hopes that others both Appalachian and non-Appalachian might change their negative associations with a beautiful heritage and culture.” The film conveys the reality of the contemporary urban Appalachian experience through Charlie Abner and uses him as a conduit to the past to get to represent this beautiful heritage and culture.
The Mountain Minor was screened at the Esquire Theatre in October. It can be streamed on Vimeo and is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from https://themountainminormovie.com/, and will show at the Plaza Theatre in Miamisburg on Wednesday, January 15, 2020; 6:30 pm music by Rabbit Hash String Band (Russ and Barb Childers, Warren and Judy Waldron) and 7:00 pm film, followed by Q&A.”The Mountain Minor won Best of Festival Jury Award at the Jukebox International Film Festival in Nevada, Best of Festival, Best Director, and Best Actor for Asa Nelson at the Endless Mountain Film Festival in Pennsylvania, and Best Film in a Category at the Queen City Film Festival in Cincinnati.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.