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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's May/June 2005 Let's Talk film selection:
The Appalachians: America's First and Last Frontier
a PBS Documentary
Review by Jennifer Hattam

What it's about
Take a journey to the land of fiddles, faith, and forests--Appalachia. This still-remote and distinct region is known for its poverty as well as its rich culture and natural beauty. All derive from its namesake mountains, which have both protected and isolated its people, and from the black gold (coal) inside those hills. Using archival footage, recent interviews, and plenty of music, The Appalachians tells some of the area's most colorful tales--including the true origins of both the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the Grand Ole Opry--and shows how the struggles of the early pioneers later made it possible for outsiders to exploit the wilderness.

Where to get it
The Appalachians premiered on public television in April; to order a copy of the video or find out about repeat airings, visit www.sierraclub.org/appalachia/film.

About the filmmakers
Mari-Lynn Evans (executive producer) is a West Virginia native. She has been the executive producer for numerous television and video programs about health and aging, including the 26-week PBS series Living Well: A Guide to Healthy Aging and the Fox Health Network show Changes. Phylis Geller (producer/writer) worked as a producer and writer on the acclaimed nonfiction programs Cosmic Journey (nominated for a 2004 Emmy Award in Outstanding Science, Technology, and Nature Programming) and Korean War Stories (winner of the 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Documentary--Long Form).

Discussion questions
Did this film dispel or reinforce stereotypes about Appalachia? What stereotypes do others have about people who come from your region?

Have music and religion played a pacifying role in Appalachia, or have they helped inspire people to action?

Many Appalachians feel a close connection to their natural environment. What is the landscape closest to your heart, and how has it shaped who you are?

At the end of the film, the narrator talks about how Appalachian people are trying to move into the new century without losing hold of their traditions. Have regional cultures in the United States become too homogenized?

People around the country benefit from the mountaintop-removal coal mining that now plagues Appalachia and threatens to destroy the potential for tourism and other cleaner economic development. Find out how much energy in your state comes from coal. What steps--personal or political--can you take to reduce coal consumption where you live?

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