Columbia film student Ursula Ellis just wanted to make a film about West Virginia that might matter to people outside of West Virginia.
In December, Ellis, her producer Kiera Lewis and a New York film crew came to Alderson and Summersville, where they shot “Crick in the Holler,” a film inspired in part by the Elk River chemical spill in 2014.
The film, which is scheduled to premiere May 11 during the Columbia University Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center in New York City, is looking to crowdfund through Indiegogo.com to pay for post-production work, such as editing, titles and effects for the project.
“Crick in the Holler,” an independent student film and a Master’s thesis for Ellis, was initially funded by a $20,000 production grant from the Arthur C. Sloan Foundation and made possible through the help of a band of volunteers and friends willing to work for not much money.
“We spent a lot of money on transportation, feeding and housing people,” Ellis said. “We had a very small budget.”
Aside from the two weeks with cast and crew in the state, Ellis said she and Lewis made several trips to the area over the previous months to scout locations and meet with residents.
They also got some help from the West Virginia Film Office.
Lewis said, “They were so accessible and generous with their time.”
Among other things, the film office helped get the word out that they needed extras.
“We had people come from as far as four hours away to be in our movie,” Ellis said.
Writing about the chemical spill was important to the filmmaker. While Ellis wasn’t born in West Virginia, her parents were.
Growing up, she spent holidays and summers visiting her grandparents on their farm.
“West Virginia is where my roots are,” Ellis said. “After the flooding last summer, it just became more important for me to bring attention to the fact that there are people in West Virginia trying to enact positive change.”
“Crick in the Holler” follows the story of two sisters and how they react to the chemical spill.
It’s a work of fiction, not a documentary, but has both historical and scientific elements built into the story. In order to get the production grant from the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation, they had to prove there was some scientific value for the film.
“It was a very long, very competitive process,” Ellis said. “We had to submit a 70-page grant proposal explaining what the film meant to me, what it would embody visually and how we were going to make the film in West Virginia.”
They also had to work with a science adviser who helped lend some authenticity to the science behind water testing.
With additional funding for the completed film, Ellis said she planned to show “Crick in the Holler” at different film festivals and then bring it home to the Mountain State.
“We have some people from West Virginia who were in the film coming up to the premiere in New York on May 11, but not everybody is able to do that.” She said, “With some of the money we raise, we could bring it back to show in West Virginia.”
Currently, they have raised about $6,000 of their overall $10,000 goal. The Indiegogo campaign closes April 27.
However the funding goes, Ellis said she thought it was important to show the film to as many people as she could.
People in West Virginia still talk about it.
“Outside of West Virginia, they’re just less aware,” she said.
Details about crowdfunding “Crick in the Hollow” are available at indiegogo.com/projects/crick-in-the-holler-a-columbia-mfa-thesis-film--2#/
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter. Follow Bill’s One Month At A Time progress on his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap/