Film Focus: Stranger with a Camera (2000)

The FilmFocus trailer series is part of AoTR’s rural cinema project, SMALLSCREEN.

By Jessie Sims

Stranger with a Camera has been recommended on this blog before. It’s an excellent film, and I hope some of you have the pleasure of discovering it now for the first time. When Savannah Barrett, Art of the Rural’s Program Director, told me about this documentary she said that everyone interested in rural media representation should watch it. I absolutely agree.

The film revisits a murder that took place in Jeremiah, Kentucky in 1967, when a local man, Hobart Ison, shot and killed National Board of Canada film director Hugh O’Connor. O’Connor was working on a project documenting the variety of American experience called US. When Ison shot him, he was filming poor tenants on Ison’s land. At this point, during the War on Poverty, deeply impoverished Appalachia had become a symbol of what was wrong with America. Ison thought that O’Connor’s images would tie him to or blame him for these conditions. It shocked the outside world when many residents of Jeremiah stood behind Ison at trial and echoed his justifications. Wanting to explore the circumstances that led to this tragedy and to understand her community’s response, Jeremiah native and filmmaker, Elizabeth Barret made Stranger with a Camera.

Focusing on this fatal meeting, Stranger with a Camera tackles the larger question of how media representations affect the people that they document. Barret strives to respect, and even to reveal, the subject’s complexity. She shares some of her own experiences with images of Appalachia — experiences that let to her decision to pick up a camera.

As a teenager at Appalshop, Barret discovered films of local culture. River baptisms. Musician circles. Scenes she had probably witnessed countless times first-hand. But watching them projected on a screen was different. She was, “hearing singing that I had never really listened to before.” Barret says, “Appalshop films were showing my place back to me in a way different from the CBS programs.” This difference in the way her home was portrayed by others changed how she related to that place. And her career of making and thinking about Appalachian images began.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000. Fifteen years later, it’s seen as a foundational, cinematic exploration of documentary ethics. The DVD is available for purchase in Appalshop’s store. (hyperlink)




Sharing “Beyond Cliché: Dramatizing Our American Identity”


[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural will share a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRound about the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Curated by Imagining America’s Jamie Haft and Dr. Arnaldo López of Pregones Theater/PRTT, the series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history.

BETSY! offers an important lens on a long-term rural-urban exchange and the many threads of commonality along America’s rural-urban continuum. This series is part of a strategy to develop new scholarship and multimedia about the vision, values, practice, and complexities of intercultural artistic collaboration, which will eventually be digested into a learning guide for teaching BETSY!. We’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater. BETSY! the musical premieres off-Broadway, April 9-26, 2015 (purchase tickets by clicking here).]

Today’s essay explores popular theater, the roots of intercultural artistic production and exchange, and Imagining America’s collaborative knowledge production through the collaboration of two unique ensembles committed to “a diverse, popular audience at the center of its process to make theatre, both at home and on the road.”

“Beyond Cliché: Dramatizing Our American Identity”
By Jamie Haft Arnaldo J. López

“How can we produce works of art that probe beyond clichés into the frayed ends of American pluralism? What kind of love-making work does it take to engender an artistic product that aspires to tell the story of us today—skeletons out of the closet and all?

Artists and scholars from across the country will discuss these questions articulated by noted folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Maribel Álvarez in the context of the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Our series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx Jazz singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history, which will premiere Off-Broadway, April 8­–26. Join us for discussion with artists and scholars about creating works of art that probe beyond clichés into the frayed ends of American pluralism.”

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Creative Rural Urban Alliances Webinar

Last week, we shared information about Art of the Rural collaborations that address both rural and urban communities alongside staff from the Rural Policy Research Institute and M12 Collective on the CommunityMatters and Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ Creative Rural Urban Alliances Webinar. Art of the Rural’s Savannah Barrett joined M12 (artist collective) member Kirsten Stoltz and RUPRI’s Chuck Fluharty to discuss creative rural urban alliances, including our Middle Landscape projects and the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange.

The Art of the Rural community believes rural and urban places are vitally interdependent and often experience a common social and economic future. Our projects build on the shared cultural and historical experiences across rural and urban regions and celebrate rural places while also including perspectives along the rural-urban continuum.

Listen in to learn about rural-urban collaborations that are is bridging divides, building common ground, and positioning arts and culture as a key component of community and economic development. The CommunityMatters® Conference Call series offers a variety of 60-minute conversations about critical issues, tools and inspiring stories of community building. CommunityMatters® is  a program of the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design and the Orton Family Foundation.