News and Announcements

Athena Cinema pays tribute to local culture with “Appalachian Stories” film series

The Athena Cinema is pleased to announce the return of its highly successful film series, “From the Hills and Hollers: Appalachian Stories.” Launched last year, the intention of the series is to promote films that seek to encapsulate the many facets of Appalachian culture and present them to a wider audience. This year’s films will showcase classic feature films, as well as contemporary documentaries produced by award-winning independent filmmakers. Additionally, in keeping with the format established by last year’s series, screenings of each of this year’s films will be accompanied by introductions and question and answer sessions by OHIO faculty, local luminaries, and some of the filmmakers themselves.

"Last year went so well that we decided to bring the series back this year with a new focus on labor. The films that we selected this year represent a diverse array of experiences in the region and include two filmmakers this spring who are coming to Athens to introduce their films themselves," said Dr. Tiffany Arnold, assistant professor of instruction in the College of Health Sciences and Professions who coordinates the Appalachian Studies undergraduate and graduate certificates.

The series will run from Fall 2023 through Winter 2024, with the first three film screenings slated to take place at The Ridges Auditorium and the remainder at the Athena Cinema - tentative upon building repairs. Both the Athens community and the students and staff of Ohio University are all invited and encouraged to partake in this homage to life in one of America’s most unique regions.

Included in this year’s films are two movies anticipated to be popular with local audiences.

The first is "King Coal," a poignant and poetic documentary from award-winning filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon that was premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Replete with moving cinematography and meditative narration, the movie explores the intricacies of coal’s complicated legacy in Central Appalachia and the impacts this legacy will have on future generations. McMillion Sheldon is well-known for two of her previous films "Heroin(e)" and "Recovery Boys," both of which were critically acclaimed offerings on Netflix. McMillion Sheldon will be present at the showing of "King Coal" to introduce the film and discuss it with those in attendance.

The second noteworthy film will be "Calls from Home" from director/activist Sylvia Ryerson. The film details Ryerson’s role in creating and facilitating a popular radio call-in show whereby family and friends of inmates can send messages and words of encouragement to their loved ones serving prison sentences in Central Appalachia. Ryerson will be on hand to promote the film and answer audience questions.

"This is a great opportunity to get your students engaged in thinking about the region and all that went into making it what it is today," added Arnold, noting that short introductions and lectures will provide context for each film and introduce the underlying issues. "This batch of films is, in large part, the product of filmmakers who have intimate knowledge of living in this environment and, as a result, are well-suited for representing the realities of Appalachia on the big screen."

The “From the Hills and Hollers: Appalachian Stories” film series will be shown with free admission and is proudly sponsored by the College of Health Sciences and Professions, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, the OHIO Honors Program, the Center for Campus and Community Engagement, Athens County Public Libraries, University Libraries, GO Local, University College, the Center for Law, Justice, & Culture, and the Ohio Arts Council.

From the Hills and Hollers: Appalachian Stories Film Series Schedule

Fall 2023

Thursday, Sept. 14, 7 p.m., "Harlan County, USA"

Barbara Koppel’s Oscar-winning 1976 documentary takes viewers from the heart of Harlan County, Kentucky to the front doors of the New York Stock Exchange as she captures on film the lives of coal miners engaged in a strike against the Duke Power Company in 1973. The film is a powerful and emotional exposé of workers standing up to industry to petition for better treatment, told in the own words of the strikers themselves. At the screening will be Jack Wright, retired professor of Ohio University’s School of Film, to share his wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of the coal mining communities that comprise the Appalachian Mountains region. This screening will take place at the Ridges Auditorium.

Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil"

Equal parts horror and dark comedy, Eli Craig’s 2010 feature film centers around Tucker and Dale, two well-meaning West Virginia hillbillies who venture into the woods to enjoy some downtime. At a nearby cabin, a group of citified college kids engaged in a similar pursuit mysteriously lose track of one of their friends and begin to suspect foul play on the part of their redneck neighbors. Things get weird, wild, and woefully out-of-hand as the story progresses to its conclusion. Dr. Arnold will be present to discuss the common ways Appalachian culture appears in horror films and how “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” contributes to or counteracts that narrative. This screening will take place at The Ridges Auditorium.

Thursday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m., "Matewan"

Filmed on location in the coal country of West Virginia, Matewan takes the audience inside the gritty world of labor union organizing during the early part of the 20th century. Inspired by true events that took place in “Bloody Mingo” County in 1920, John Sayles’ critically-acclaimed film follows the efforts of union organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) and Scab 'Few Clothes Johnson (James Earl Jones) who join forces with the local mayor and police chief to push back against the bosses, hired thugs, and spies of the Stone Mountain Coal Company who threaten to break a strike initiated by the town’s coal miners to petition the company for fair treatment, safe working conditions, and worker’s rights. Shawnee State University Assistant Professor Christy Zempter will provide an introduction to the film. This screening will take place at The Ridges Auditorium.

Spring 2024

Thursday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m., "King Coal"

A lyrical tapestry of a place and people, this documentary meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry, the communities it has shaped, and the myths it has created. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon reshapes the boundaries of the genre in a spectacularly beautiful and deeply moving immersion into Central Appalachia, where coal is not just a resource, but a way of life. While deeply situated in the communities under the reign of King Coal, where McMillion Sheldon has lived and worked her entire life, the film transcends time and place, emphasizing the ways in which all are connected through an immersive mosaic of belonging, ritual, and imagination. Emerging from the long shadows of the coal mines, King Coal untangles the pain from the beauty, and illuminates the innately human capacity for change. Director Elaine McMillon Sheldon will be at this event to introduce the film and answer audience questions. This screening will take place at The Athena Cinema.

Thursday, March 21, 7 p.m., "October Sky"

Based on the memoir "Rocket Boys" by American engineer Homer H. Hickman Jr., the film tells the story of four young men who, while growing up in the coal fields of rural West Virginia in the late-1950s, witness the world-shaking launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite and are inspired to start building rockets of their own, seeking a path to the stars instead of succumbing to the well-worn path that would lead them down into the coal mines. Dr. Amy Wolfe, associate professor from OHIO’s Chillicothe campus, will provide an introduction to the film. This screening will take place at The Athena Cinema.

Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m., "Calls from Home"

Sylvia, a young radio DJ, hosts "Calls from Home," a weekly radio call-in show in rural Kentucky that sends messages and shouts-out to people incarcerated in prisons throughout Central Appalachia, allowing the inmates and their families to bridge the iron bars of the corrections system and share a much-needed connection. Director Sylvia Ryerson will be at this event to introduce the film and answer audience questions. This screening will take place at The Athena Cinema.

Further information about the “From the Hills and Hollers: Appalachian Stories” film series can be found on the Athena Cinema website:, or by contacting the Athena Cinema directly: Athena Cinema Director Alex Kamody –, office phone: (740) 594-7382.

August 18, 2023
Staff reports