One Year After Flood, Dozens of Historic Community Videotapes Preserved and Made Available to the Public

Appalshop Partnered with Media Burn Archive to Save and Digitize Forty Historic Tapes Created by Independent Appalachian Filmmakers

Free virtual screening of “East Kentucky Flood,” a half-hour documentary produced by the Center for Rural Strategies, July 27 at 6pm CT / 7pm ET, and discussion with filmmakers (RSVP)

Today, a year after the devastating floods hit eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia, Appalshop and Media Burn have released forty historic videos created by independent Appalachian media makers in the 1970s to the public. Newly preserved and digitized for the first time, with funding provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), these videos are now available online and free here for public viewing. 

The recently digitized tapes were produced in the 1970s by Appalshop, the Appalachian Learning Library at Alice Lloyd College, Broadside TV, and Mountain Community Television. The collection provides extraordinary insight into the devastating effects on local communities of strip mining and other destructive coal company practices, and into the efforts of activists attempting to force legislators to take action.

The 33-minute video Appalachian Perspective documents the damage wrought by strip mining – a practice that destroyed homes, farms, and entire communities, made worse by coal companies’ refusal to adhere to the minimal reparative measures required by law – while demonstrating the urgency and effectiveness of efforts to reclaim and rehabilitate the land. 

Environmentalist Phil Shelton in Appalachian Perspective, compiled by Paul Congo, 33 minutes

Damaging mining practices hang over much of the Appalshop collection, from documentation of the 1965 Clinchmore flood to protests to the art, literature, and music that was produced in response. One of the more remarkable tapes in the collection documents a performance of folk songs and storytelling about the coal companies from several of Appalachia’s most important and influential songwriters. In Sarah Ogan Gunning’s moving performance of her signature song, “Dreadful Memories,” she sings, with powerful conviction, “All those memories, how they haunt me. Make me want to organize. Makes me want to help the workers. Make them open up their eyes.” Nimrod Workman sings and tells stories about his decades of work in the mines, and then joins Jack Wright for a lively singalong of the song “Ginseng Sullivan.”

Nimrod Workman performs on Coal Mining Songs and Stories, 33 minutes. The video also features Sarah Ogan Gunning, Jack Wright, and Phyllis Boyens

Caroline Rubens, director of the Appalshop Archive, explained, “People might not think of Central Appalachia as a locus of counterculture activity in the 1970s. But Appalshop’s 70s-era video collection is evidence that there were grassroots fights for environmental and economic justice in the region, and that media makers were there to document it. We’re grateful to Media Burn for including us in their Guerilla Television project, which has enabled us to make this material accessible to the public for the first time. The Media Burn team is leading the way in preserving audiovisual formats that capture historically underrepresented groups.”

These videos represent the efforts of rural community media groups experimenting with early handheld camcorders and expanding access to cable television, training others in the community to use the equipment, and providing locally produced public access television. The preservation of these materials was completed as part of the Guerrilla Television Network project, led by Media Burn and University of Chicago, saving and sharing more than 1,000 previously unseen videos from the 1970s that were created by people who were often excluded from participating in film production and news media. This work, produced on fragile 50-year-old videotapes, is being rescued from imminent and permanent loss and made viewable for the first time to global audiences.

Media Burn’s executive director, Sara Chapman, says, “When the flood hit Whitesburg, Kentucky, our hearts broke. We were relieved that this collection of videotapes was already in Chicago awaiting digitization. Although the majority of Appalshop’s media archive is still in critical danger, the tapes we have digitized and made available will provide a new picture of the region’s history and culture.” Media Burn curator Adam Hart says, “The work that Appalshop has done in the past fifty years is truly extraordinary and its impact on the history of the arts in America has been immeasurable. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to help preserve and share their archive’s vital documentation of Appalachian life and culture.”

If you’re in Kentucky, KET will be airing a segment on Monday, July 31st about this partnership between Media Burn and Appalshop. After it airs, we will share the streaming link with you.

In conjunction with the release of this collection and the anniversary of the flood, Media Burn is hosting a virtual screening and discussion of “East Kentucky Flood,” a half-hour documentary produced by the Center for Rural Strategies. The free event will take place today, July 27, at 6pm CT / 7pm ET and will offer viewers the chance to discuss the film and its impact on Eastern Kentucky with filmmakers Joel Cohen, Dee Davis, and Mimi Pickering. For more information and to sign up for the event, go here:

Still from East Kentucky Flood, produced by the Center for Rural Strategies, 2023



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