We haven’t been sure how much media interest there’d be in the story of a post-industrial West Virginia river town. After all, there’s been so much done on the decline of Manufacturing, USA, from Michael Moore’s movie Roger&Me, to George Packer’s book The Unwinding. Why would anybody want to watch another sad story of decline? I think our story is different, and goes to places nobody else has. The mound is a unique, mystical, powerful character. The story of the Marx toy plant might deserve its own movie. We cover the nuances of the booming 50s, and of decline. And we have cool, quirky, funny, smart characters. So I’ve been beating this drum for the last few weeks, telling everybody I could about the movie, and sending out press releases. With the premiere on for this Friday, 7pm, at the Strand, in Moundsville, interest finally picked up this week. I spent part of Monday with Nora Edinger of Weelunk.com, a cool Wheeling, WV-based start-up. She wrote a very nice piece that ran his morning. The Tribune-Review pubbed its story, more of an interview. Then, by evening, it was time to click on WTOV9’s website to watch the feature on the evening news. After 20 years of journalism, it is weird to be on the other side of the fence, answering questions from reporters. I am excited that people are interested in the subject matter. I’m hoping they watch the movie and realize that we have a deeper story to tell. Just two more sleeps until the premiere! –John
I drove down to Moundsville this week ahead of the premiere on Dec. 7. I went to hand out fliers, meet with Sadie Crow, manager of the Strand theatre, and talk to some of the people I’ve met over the past year. “Are you the fella who’s made that movie?” an older man asked me when I ducked into his store. We had an interesting conversation about whether discussion in the movie of the town’s richer day would evoke pride or sadness in locals. (Both.) The theatre is cool. I imagined the thousands of magical evenings that have happened there before: concerts, movies, Shakespeare, one-woman shows. Outside, the snow covered the mound in a soft sheen of white. It was lovely. I took the picture below with an iPhone7 — in color.
John W. Miller
In case you missed it, Buzzfeed last week published an essay I wrote about our project. The headline might come off as a bit pessimistic, and I hope that doesn’t distract from what we’re trying to do, which is start a new kind of conversation about our economy and politics. If the truth of the American rural economy is a land of Wal-Marts and prisons and hospitals, with $12/hour service jobs, then no amount of sloganeering can change that. If that’s not the world we want, we should talk about what we do want, and how to get there. And, we think, telling the story of how we got here is a good way to start. –John–
We had talked about showing our movie for the first time at Pittsburgh theatres like Row House or Regent Square. In the end, we got an offer to do the premiere at the Strand, a 98-year-old theatre in the center of Moundsville. There’s already a lot of interest on Facebook. We’d love to fill up the theatre, of course. (It seats 400.) But the real reason to show this for the first time in Moundsville is that it best fits our mission of telling local stories locally. We want to show how important it is to talk about history by listening to people, instead of arguing everything through a political lens. We’ll do a Q&A after the movie. I’m hoping there’ll be local media coverage. Phil Remke, the deputy mayor, called me to say he’s talked to a couple TV stations about the Strand showing, and that I can expect calls from them.
Moundsville, currently playing on PBS, is the biography of a classic American town, Moundsville, WV (pop. 8,400), on the Ohio River, where Appalachia hits the Midwest. Told through the voices of residents, the film sidesteps clichés — like opioids, coal, and Trump — and traces the town’s story from the Native American burial mound it’s named after, through the rise and fall of industry — including giants like Fostoria glass and the Marx toy plant (Rock’em Sock’em robots!) — to the age of WalMart and shale gas, and a new generation figuring it all out. By reckoning with deeper truths about the heartland and its economy, without nationalist nostalgia or liberal condescension, Moundsville plants seeds for better conversations about America’s future. You can watch online. This blog has a life of its own. It promotes the film, and collects news about Moundsville, celebrity profiles, poetry contests, and essays about journalism, economics, and history.