My documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival and I was asked to tell you, the kind folks who read The Huffington Post, a little bit about it. Our movie happens to deal with some very serious issues like the destructiveness of the mining industry and the problems with entitlement culture but we also have a lot of fun drug use, gun shooting, gratuitous nudity (of both sexes) and some very charming female on male attempted rape. I also believe we may have broken the land speed record for the frequency of the use of that most mellifluous of words- motherfucker in a documentary film.
The movie follows for one year four generations of the White family. Their most famous member is Jesco White, star of the PBS documentary The Dancing Outlaw, a man as known for his love of Appalachian mountain dancing (a hybrid of clogging and tapping) as his passion for inhaling an amazing assortment of mind altering substances (most especially in his younger days -- gas and lighter fluid). The other members of the family are equally known for their love of illegal activities, frequent shoot-outs, and the ability to be poetic, funny and beautifully profane. They are very complex people with deep thoughts about life and death. Everything with them is about extremes -- extreme fun or extreme sadness, extreme love or extreme hate. Because they grew up very poor in West Virginia's coal country, they see the limits society has placed in their way and instead of being depressed, give life (and death) the middle finger and, in the words of Mamie White, love to "party their balls off."
Some people look at them with a condescending attitude, tut-tutting the way they embrace destructive behavior and hurtle toward fun and oblivion. I hope those people fuck off and don't come see the movie. Growing up with death around every pillar inside the coalmines, the whole culture has absorbed the lesson that life is short and cruel. As Jesco explained to me -- either you go the religious route and live in hell now, working every day in the bowels of the earth, looking forward to heaven after -- or -- you go the other way, partying and getting your heaven immediately, saying "fuck you" to society and respectability, happily accepting your inevitable future in hell.
A lot of people who've never spent time in Appalachia, stereotype the people there. But if you spend any time there you will discover that it is filled not only with some of the nicest and funniest people you've ever met but also some of the smartest. You'll meet coalminers who just rattle off history like you've ever seen. I became friends with a jail guard who knew (thanks to the internet and Netflix) more about obscure European gore movies than anyone I know in LA (and I know a lot of sickos). The obvious question was, why did he become a guard if he was so smart? And the answer was that he didn't want to become a coalminer, the only other well paying job there. There is so much intelligence and potential squandered that people naturally turn to destruction and give up on education.
The rise of mountain top removal is the perfect metaphor for life there. Instead of underground mining, the coal companies are switching to what used to be called strip mining. They realized it was cheaper to rip the tops off mountains, destroying the environment and local waterways. After this, they plow out the coal from the exposed coal seams and leave the area looking like a crater on the moon with some cheap grass sprinkled on top. The money comes quickly, the mountain leaves faster and then the communities are screwed afterwards left with no work. Party now because the coal will soon be gone and we'll be left with nothing. That's the story of too much life there. It's either crushing up coal to sell or crushing up pills to snort.
Yet, no one asks, where that coal goes to? Whose giant TV monitors, computers and lights get lit up with the energy torn from the mountains? It turns out it's our friends running the country in Washington DC and its suburbs. And they certainly know what burning all that coal does to the environment. So, who is more fucked -- the people mining the coal and snorting lines, knowing their lives are short or the people buying the coal and burning it in the power plants they never see to light up their classy wine parties, knowing their lives are long? I think the Whites are the honest ones. They know they are rushing to oblivion, while the rest of us are just in the slow lane on that same highway. Only the energy fueling the rest of our trip was ripped from the mountains the Whites grew up on top of.
Premiere - Saturday, April 25th at 9:30pm - AMC Village 7, Theater 4
Public Screening 2 - Sunday, April 26th at 10:00pm - AMC Village 7, Theater 2
Public Screening 3 - Thursday, April 30th at 10:45pm - AMC Village 7, Theater 1
Public Screening 4 - Saturday, May 2nd at 12:15am - AMC Village 7, Theater 7