Please welcome guest author/film director Laura Smith. Smith got her bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Eastern Kentucky University and continued on to UCLA to study screenwriting. “I learned most of the technical aspects of film by working on my own short film projects and by working crew on a feature film,” she says. “In addition, I have written 4 full length screenplays.” She’s currently starting production on her first feature film, ‘Coal Dust.’
As I reflect upon growing up in the Appalachian foothills, I consider my family, neighbors and community. I realize I come from a long line of builders. I don’t mean those who build houses, churches and businesses, although they were surely there. I refer to those who make things and seek to improve things. Those people who create.
My ancestors were some of the earliest settlers of Tennessee and Kentucky. They forged trails through what was then the wilderness, they settled the wild frontier, and they built towns, houses, the roads. They built the businesses people needed to survive. They saw a need, and they thought about what they could build or create to fill it.
My family was not the only one who pursued this creation. Entire communities would get together to raise barns, churches and houses when there was a need. Ladies got together in sewing circles and made quilt pieces and patterns out of worn and outgrown clothing. Hardly, anything was left to waste because they could make something new from it. Something helpful, something practical. They could fulfill a need for something.
While some traditions such as barn raising and sewing circles were dying out as I grew up, I always heard the stories and saw the outcome of what happened when people got together to create things. Churches and houses are still standing. Roads are still traveled, and many of those quilts are still around to keep me warm on a cold winter’s night. Not only did they build and create things. They made things that lasted.
As I have witnessed the decrease in coal production over the years, and I have watched businesses decline and disappear, I’ve found myself wondering what our communities would make and how they would proceed. What would they build?
In recent years, the communities seem to have spoken because I am seeing an increase in beautification, and a quest for tourism. It seems Appalachia is ready to open its doors for visitors and share what our families have built over all these years.
As I await the unfolding next chapter in Appalachia’s story, I paused to ponder where we’ve been, where we are going and what we must do to get there. I ask myself, “What can I create? What can I build?”
My narrative film Coal Dust depicts a modern lobbyist who is called home to see her family. She reflects on her town and family’s history with coal mines, as she helps her family. She sees her hometown’s own attempts to promote tourism and bring in new forms of revenue as the so-called “war on coal” rages in the nation’s capital.
While this is a work of fiction, it is set around modern topics affecting central Appalachia and the debate about coal and other natural resources in this country. This film is set in eastern Kentucky and shows the way of life as we’ve come to know it.
My lead character is loosely based on my experiences as someone who grew up in the region, went to college and left the area to pursue her career. She adapted to life outside the area and held on to her roots to be of benefit to her culture and her world.
It is my intention to break media stereotypes of the region by showing the earnest work of modern Appalachians, and inform the country of our efforts to survive and maintain our way of life in keeping with our inherent cultural values.
I grew up in southeastern Kentucky in the small town of Manchester. I studied psychology at Berea College and was subjected to many courses in Appalachian studies. While there, I began to make the correlation between life as I knew it and scholarly observations of the people of the region. I learned to view myself as both an individual and a member of the community.
When asked about my influences, I’m fond of saying “I’m a Spielberg/Capra kinda girl.” In truth, my greatest influences will always be the oral tradition of Appalachian storytelling. I grew up hearing yarns spun by the greatest storytellers of all time. My challenge to myself has been to mold those oral traditions into visual storytelling in a film medium. I believe this film will show the success of that.