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Review: Deep Down

November 5, 2010
by

Deep Down will be showing at the Roxie during the San Francisco Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay festival this weekend. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Guest post by Matt Delight and Jason Dryg of Fat and Skinny Go to the Movies.

Jason:
Deep Down is a documentary about the plight of some Appalachians that go up against an evil mining company. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that before. However, these are not your stereotypical fiddle-playin’ folks of the buck-toothed hillbilly variety.

They aren’t the type who use their knowledge of the woods they’ve spent generations in to lure, trap, and torture the big city execs that come to take advantage of them with fancy words and promises of wealth. That’s how it would play out in a normal Fat and Skinny sojourn.
The film introduces us to several articulate and charming characters who share a passion for the preservation of their rich heritage. The setting is the beautiful Appalachian Mountains where life for these folks has unfolded for generations, a landscape earmarked for coal mining. The antagonist is not the miners but the method, mountain top removal. These people have mining deeply ingrained in their culture. Some are conflicted about what is at stake. Do they side with family, livelihood rooted in the mining industry, or do the they protect the very mountains that define them as a people? Meanwhile, with minds made up, others fight for their desired result.
In the eco-conscious Bay Area, it seems like a no-brainer. Anything called mountain top removal is almost laughable. But here, where it happens, it is accepted as a way of life. This makes the fight that much harder. Unlike many heavy handed depressing films that merely expose and condemn the machine we meet real people who remain optimistic in the face of the coming fight and meet it with a southern ease and grace of a classic Capra film. In the end, I was not depressed. I learned a lot. And ultimately, I was glad I had seen this little film.

Matt:
“Buckle up,” is what I think Jason said as we were about to fire up the Jennifer Gilomen and Sally Rubin documentary Deep Down. Why? Come on, it’s a documentary about big coal companies and mountaintop removal mining currently going on in the Appalachians. I’m not sure if you ever read anything on the subject, but apparently it’s pretty awful. I am slightly ashamed to say it, but I didn’t become hipped to this plight until Vice Magazine did an issue on the whole thing a few years ago. (However, feel free to ‘Wiki’ it if you happened to miss that ish.)

So you can imagine where my barometer was set. I was expecting to watched in a hushed awe all the gap-toothed ignorance and corporate vampires I have come to expect from this type of story, from that part of the country.

A modern day, white-trash, cautionary, horror tale. But, FOR REALS.

However, if you’re looking for bummers and blights…you may want to look elsewhere.

Jennifer Gilomen and Sally Rubin’s documentary is less about the nightmare which is big coal (but, don’t get me wrong…it’s in there) and more about civic duty.

The story follows a group of local organizers pulling together and trying to ward off a large coal concerns effort to move into the town of Maytown and mine the coal from the mountain. Primarily focusing on the friendship of Beverly May and Terry Ratcliffe. Beverly, leading the organization against the energy company; Terry, more on the fence about his decision. (Terry, representing the dissenting point of view…sorta).

The story unfolds through a series of conversations between friends, neighbors and town hall meetings. It makes for a much more even handed (or less agenda driven) documentary. It also implies the viewer is savvy enough to read between the lines to garner the hydra like reach that is the coal industry in the Appalachians.

Also, I have no idea where Jennifer Gilomen and Sally Rubin found Beverly May and Terry Ratcliffe, but they (Beverly and Terry) are Mission hipster kids 30 years in the future. Beverly plays fiddle in a local blue-grass band, and maintains an urban garden…but in the wild…so just a garden. Terry, the spitting image of Peter Fonda, built his log cabin by hand. He makes his living making beautiful, hand-crafted furniture. Plus, he has a shed filled with Frankensteined bikes.

(OK, that bike thing is totally not true)

Anyhoo, it’s a positive, community minded movie. High on the power of human spirit. Whose backdrop just happens to be coal mining in Appalachia. By the end of which, you’ll be pretty sure you can make a difference. (Because, you can. You’re rad.)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Toby Wilcher permalink
    November 6, 2010 4:20 pm

    Dear Jason and Matt:
    Although I think you meant well and have given this important documentary a favorable review, I have to call you to task for what I see as an overall tone of superiority toward the poor hillbillies of Appalachia, a tone we hear far too often. As a native Kentuckian living in the foothills of Appalachia and active in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide grassroots organization fighting mountaintop removal, I take offense to the continued stereotyping of Appalachians, obvious through your use of terms like “gap-toothed ignorance,” “modern day, white trash cautionary horror tale,” and your description of “several articulate and charming characters.” While on the one hand, you seem to recognize how horribly Appalachians have been stereotyped in the media, some of your comments tend to perpetuate that stereotyping.

    Of course, Bev May is articulate. She has an advanced degree and is a healthcare professional! And I am not sure, but I believe Terry has gone to college also. Neither one of them are “Mission hipsters 30 years in the future.” The Missions hipster can only hope to have as rich a cultural heritage as Bev and Terry have experienced. Their gardens, their musical ability, furniture making and building skills are not the latest hip and stylish trend. They are things that have been handed down from their elders for generations.

    Those of us who have fought the illegal and destructive practices of the coal companies for years need allies who can help in this fight. But we do not need allies who are looking down their long, superior noses at us. We need allies who understand that even the most uneducated Appalachian has wisdom and can teach you a thing or two. We need allies who do not fall into the trap of stereotyping us as ignorant and in need of someone to guide them because we don’t have the sense to know what is needed in our region. You can make a difference, but not because you’re rad, hip and trendy. You can make a difference by understanding our dynamics and our cultural heritage; and by being willing to stand beside us in our fight.

  2. Deep Mountain Roots permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:30 am

    What I am reviewing here is this review. What I am staggered by is how much the ‘actors’ got the focus. The ISSUE was mentioned, but the ‘actors’ were analyzed. Of course, we know, these are people, not actors (or as Jason says ‘characters’.) Wow, you mean the film actually has two articulate natives in it? You mean, there ARE articulate Appalachian natives? Not an oxymoron?

    Here’s a quote from Matt: “Also, I have no idea where Jennifer Gilomen and Sally Rubin found Beverly May and Terry Ratcliffe, but they (Beverly and Terry) are Mission hipster kids 30 years in the future. Beverly plays fiddle in a local blue-grass band, and maintains an urban garden…but in the wild…so just a garden. Terry, the spitting image of Peter Fonda, built his log cabin by hand. He makes his living making beautiful, hand-crafted furniture. Plus, he has a shed filled with Frankensteined bikes.

    (OK, that bike thing is totally not true)” END OF QUOTE

    Now back to me:

    I am left speechless. I can’t find a way ‘into’ these remarks. And, I suspect (from observing there are No Comments written) others feel the same way.

    What to do with this type of ‘review.’ Where to begin? Reading this leaves me feeling so tired. And uninspired. Tired of the ‘bead’ that other cultures have on my own culture. A culture that is as diverse and rich as any on this earth. But, the last bastion of worlds that it is okay to stereotype. And I quote from Jason:
    “However, these are not your stereotypical fiddle-playin’ folks of the buck-toothed hillbilly variety.” And (from Mark): “A modern day, white-trash, cautionary, horror tale. But, FOR REALS.”

    Notice the heavily sprinkled words that pepper this article. Words that are, frankly, just not okay. I know, I know, you guys, I am sure, you are completely PC and perhaps you have ‘seen the light’ but you persist in peppering your reviews with such totally horrific stereotype images and words. Even if you are deflecting from them, you are still (by god) presenting them. Putting them into print. Just think about it, fellows. Just consider what you are (hopefully inadvertently) perpetuating. And, please realize, there are people in this hidden culture who can read, can write, and know a snide or condescending tone when it is lobbed in our face. Surprise. Busted!

  3. Lora permalink
    November 7, 2010 11:58 am

    I’m also left speechless by this ‘review.’ I’ll give the reviewers the benefit that they did have the best intentions, but found themselves out of their depths in trying to review a documentary film and not an ironic slasher pic.

    So, no finger wagging at the reviewers other than to express that I found your comments hurtful, but I would like to address the editors of this blog and their willingness to publish a piece that perpetuates injustice and prejudice.

    Did the editors find anything questionable about this review? Would you have published a review, even if it was written in a flipant tone, that had imbedded statements of racism and/or homophobia?

    I fully support free speech, but I do wonder why it’s the people from the region that are left to educate the ‘left coast’.

    Where are our urban allies willing to say that this type of contextual negative stereotyping of an entire region and diverse population is not okay?

    It did give me a good laugh, reading, “I’m not sure if you ever read anything on the subject, but apparently it’s pretty awful. I am slightly ashamed to say it, but I didn’t become hipped to this plight until Vice Magazine did an issue on the whole thing a few years ago. (However, feel free to ‘Wiki’ it if you happened to miss that ish.)”

    Acknowledging my own prejudices about privileged and elite urban youth populations, I entertained the question of whether or not the stereotypes about vapid and clueless San Francisco hipsters really were true. I know they are not and that there are many people in the bay area that care deeply about Appalachian communities.

    The two things I’d like to say to the readership of this blog is:

    1. Stereotypes exist so that we, as a society, can do unspeakable things to each other. It’s a process of other-ing that allows for people to become sub-human and expendable to large multi-national corporations, like those that run the coal industry, and ultimately to the consumers that buy their products. The hillbilly stereotype is inextricably connected to a century of abuse by extractive industries in the region.

    2. Don’t forget that your shiny white laptops are run on dirty coal that directly affects the lives and health of entire communities in the Appalachian coalfields and other regions of the world that are coal-producing or suffer from proximity to coal burning power plants. A quick calculation made by http://www.ilovemountains.org/myconnection shows that the electricity that provides the Mission District comes from a mountaintop removal mine.

    Don’t distant yourself from “them,” but realize that we are connected in a very real relationship of production and consumption.

    And what we choice to do about our relationship, together, will eventually direct our interwoven futures.

    -Lora, Eastern Kentucky

  4. megslove permalink*
    November 8, 2010 3:59 pm

    We’d like to personally thank you Lora, Toby and Deep Mountain Roots for your thoughts. It was never Bay Area Bourgeois’ intention to offend, hurt or belittle those from the Appalachian region.

    If you peruse some of our other content or that of our collaborators – Fat and Skinny Go to the Movies – you will quickly find that both entities provide content of the entertainment and culture variety. Both Bay Area Bourgeois and Fat and Skinny Go to the Movies are Bay Area based entities. Neither entity is a social or environmental issues clearing house. The reviews written by Matt and Jason were meant to be viewed through the lens of entertainment and film criticism. We believe that they were successful in providing an informative view of the film for those curious about its content or intending to see it at the San Francisco Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay event. Both reviewers mention their sympathy for the mountaintop mining plight elucidated in Gilomen and Rubin’s piece while expressing appreciation for the characters of the film and the unbiased film-making.

    Additionally, we’d like to address the notion that acknowledging stereotypes and perpetuating stereotypes are one and the same. Both Matt and Jason mention their delight with what they believe to be an accurate representation of the culture of East Kentucky and the co-directors’ ability to present the characters and the conflict of Deep Down in an even-handed manner.

    We can assure you that no one associated with Bay Area Bourgeois or Fat and Skinny Go to the Movies feel any kind of condescension towards the citizens of Kentucky or anyone fighting against mountaintop mining and we apologize for any unintentional implications along these lines. Thank you again for reading and responding.

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