Dear residents of Moundsville,
I know you’ve had different reactions to the movie, ‘Moundsville’. Some have enjoyed the journey into history, while others have described the movie as “too depressing” or “bleak”.
I can promise you that, as we’ve shown the film in New York, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and now across the country on PBS, viewers who aren’t from your town have only had one reaction: They love you.
They love your town, and they want to visit and spend money at the mound, the prison, Bob’s Diner, and on Jefferson Ave.
As Tony Montana, spokesman for the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, put it, “it’s impossible to deny that I’m rooting for Moundsville. These are good folks who certainly deserve a win.”
Here’s what viewers of ‘Moundsville’ have told me they see:
They see people with grit, determination, and heart, coping with an extremely difficult and unfair economic transition that was not their fault. People know that life is hard, and they admire anybody with the resilience and toughness you’ve shown.
They see charming, positive local leaders like Phil “Top of the Morning” Remke and Gene Saunders who love everything about their town (especially the donuts at Quality Bakery!).
They see a people determined not to forget their history, because, as Phil Remke puts it, it’s important to know your history to build a better future.
They see a successful, high-tech businessman in Dave Shutler, owner of Shutler Cabinets.
They see authoritative public intellectuals, like Andrea Keller, coordinator at the internationally famous, and important, Grave Creek Mound.
They see a place proud of its rich industrial history including mighty manufacturers like Marx Toys and Fostoria Glass.
They see visionary tourism leaders like Suzanne Park, director of the former state penitentiary.
They see a creative and resourceful good Samaritan, Rose Hart, full of life, generosity and cheer.
They see a community that welcomes Mexican families like the Martinezes who own the Acapulco restaurant, and an intelligent, impressive young man, Alexis Martinez, offering ways for Americans to get along better.
They see a spirited entrepreneur, Steve Hummel, a kind, curious young man who always keeps his head up and is full of ideas, like starting a gym, a restaurant or a paranormal museum.
They see citizens overflowing with clear-eyed wisdom, knowledge, and grace, like Bill Wnek, John Duffy and Les Barker.
They see local historians who really know their stuff, like Gary Rider.
They see a wise, accomplished writer, West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman, who dedicated decades of his life to teaching in Moundsville.
They see men who love their craft, like glassmaker Fred Wilkerson.
They see enthusiastic young people, like Rosemary Tagorsky and the Howards.
The movie touches on some wider societal trends that are clearly not good that Moundsville is not responsible for, which I think have colored the film in a negative light for some people:
1. Industrial decline: The closing of factories, as companies fell apart for all kinds of reasons, or moved elsewhere in America, and to Asia and Mexico to make goods more cheaply for companies like WalMart.
2. Exploitation of natural resources, especially gas, in a way that doesn’t help locals.
3. Mistreatment of African-Americans, ranging from their cruel enslavement to school segregation, vote suppression, and other discrimination, which Gene Saunders describes.
I think it’s important to say that nobody is blaming Moundsville for these complicated parts of the American story we are all wrestling with, problems we are all trying to solve. Instead, people watching the movie admire Moundsville’s grace is handling them. (After all, in the case of racial equality, Gene grew up to work in coal mines, coach football and become mayor — in Moundsville. “I love America,” he told me when I interviewed him. “I think it’s the best country to live in. I love our rights, and our freedoms.”)
In The Atlantic, James Fallows wrote that he admired in the movie, “a complete absence of any tone of self-pity or victimization among the people Miller and Bernabo interviewed” and “a completely clear-eyed understanding, by those same people, of the inevitability of ceaseless economic and technological change” and “a sharp sense of humor and intelligence about their surroundings, the changing times, the aspects of local life that kept them tied to the community and the other aspects whose oddities they recognized.”
That is so much to be proud of.
(If you still don’t like the film, I respect your opinion. This, after all, is America.)
John Miller, co-director, Moundsville
PS- I’ve loved hearing your enthusiasm about Grand Vue Park, the Zip Line, and other attractions, and suggestions that we should have included them. This was not a tourism or promotional movie, so it didn’t work to feature them, but I promise to do my best to promote them on moundsville.org and elsewhere online.