Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Dale Farmer loved hearing the stories of what life was like in Appalachia during the Great Depression for his grandfather, Charlie Cox. By early adulthood, he could repeat them verbatim.
"He told them all the time, so it did get a little tiresome," Farmer said.
Still, he recognized their value as both entertainment and history and determined to write them down. A musician and novice screenwriter, he set about to do just that in 2015 after sharing the idea with some of his pickin' friends and bandmates.
"I never imagined it would go this far and actually become a movie," he said.
"The result, "The Mountain Minor," will debut Saturday, June 6, on the Heartland network, one of several national networks owned and operated by Reach High Media in Chattanooga. The film will repeat throughout the month.
The film was honored with the Spirit of the Mountains Award at the University of Pikeville's UPike Film & Media Arts Festival in Kentucky, as well as Best Drama at the Longleaf Festival at the North Carolina History Museum and the Franklin International Film Festival (Tennessee), Best Feature at the Northeast Mountain Festival (Georgia) and Best of Festival at the Endless Mountain Film Festival (Pennsylvania) and The Jukebox International Film Festival (Nevada).
Where to watch
“The Mountain Minor” premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 6. Watch it on the Heartland network (channel 6.2 over the air, 388 on Dish, 165 on EPBFI) or stream it on the free Roku Heartland app or at watchheartlandtv.com.
Encore presentations are scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, June 15; 4 p.m. Sunday, June 21; and 10 p.m. Saturday, June 27 (all times Eastern).
It's the story of Farmer's ancestors' move from Southern Appalachia to Ohio looking for work. Along the way, they share their love for old-time mountain music.
"This film is about people leaving their homes and bringing their music and culture with them," Farmer said. "They deserve so much credit for the music that eventually became country and bluegrass."
Joel Wertman, president of the Heartland network, agrees. "This film captures beautifully how the country music genre was born," says Wertman. "We are honored to bring this poignant American story to audiences across the country."
The film is also notable because Farmer and singer-songwriter-producer Susan Pepper used talented mountain music performers including including Smithsonian Folkways artist Elizabeth LaPrelle, The Tillers, Dan Gellert, Ma Crow, Trevor McKenzie, Lucas Pasley, Hazel Pasley, Asa Nelson, Warren Waldron, Judy Waldron, Aaron Wolfe, Jean Dowell and Pepper herself, rather than actors in the film.
Watch the trailer
"I thought it would be easier to teach musicians how to act than to teach actors how to play mountain music," Farmer explained. "I did not want them to lip-sync or play to prerecorded tracks, the way musical scenes are usually shot. Every musical performance in the film was shot 'live,' rough edges and all. I wanted everything to look and sound real."
He said he wanted to capture the nuance and authenticity that real musicians bring to the music. That authenticity was also important to depicting what life in Appalachia was like without plumbing or electricity. There is a lengthy scene in the film, for example, where young Charlie is helping his mother wash the family's clothes by the creek in a boiling vat of soap and water.
"Get your bath before you come back up to the house," his mother tells him before hauling the laundry up to the clothesline for drying.
Farmer said the Dayton and Cincinnati areas of Ohio were a stopping point for many Appalachian migrants, and the film seems to have resonated with them.
"I have so many people who see it and tell me they cried throughout watching it," he said. "I think it just makes them happy to see this presented in a respectful way.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.