Film Explores Appalachia’s Environment

Story by Linda Coutant

A new film about the Appalachia region underscores a universal truth Western Civilization seems to struggle remembering: humanity is part of the environment, not separate from it.

Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People airs on PBS four consecutive Thursdays beginning April 9. Produced by award-winning filmmakers Jamie Ross and Ross Spears and narrated by Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek, this four-hour series is considered the first-ever environmental history film.

The filmmaking duo of Ross and Spears spent 10 years on this documentary, which explores the intersection of natural history and human history in a biologically rich, diverse and beautiful mountain region. Its four parts focus on Appalachia’s geological formation, clash of European and Native cultures, industrial age and the search for identity in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Interviews include Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson, best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver, the late writer Wilma Dykeman, historian Ron Eller of the University of Kentucky and anthropologist Harvard Ayers of Appalachian State University.

More untruths are known about Appalachia than any other region in the United States, explains Ross, which is why she, a longtime Asheville, NC resident, and her filmmaking partner Spears, who grew up in Johnson City, Tenn., felt a new look at the mountains was needed.

In their storytelling, they make the mountains a central character, rather than a natural backdrop.
“I was constantly excited and flabbergasted to learn of the extraordinary diversity of life in this region: There are more species of salamanders in the Smoky Mountains than any other part of the world,” said Spears.

“For environmental change, we need to include the environmental part of the story. Our hope is that viewers of our film will look around – wherever they live – and become more aware of their surroundings and develop a conversation about what we can do to protect our natural resources,” Ross said.

Visit the films’ website for details.

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