New York City is a long way from Bulltown Hollow in Braxton County. But Mari-Lynn Evans said Bulltown Hollow, where she’s from, seems just as far away as some of the places she visited during the making of her documentary “Blood on the Mountain.”
Coal country, the filmmaker said, can feel like it’s an entirely different place than even Appalachia. A kind of alternate world.
Evans said, “When we started filming in coal country, it was like a different culture, even from where I was from, about two hours away.”
“Blood on the Mountain” is a look at the history of the coal industry over the past 150 years, with an emphasis on how that history has played out in West Virginia and how it has affected the state’s people.
The documentary by Evening Star Films has been nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Historical Documentary.” The award is part of the 2018 News and Documentary Emmy Award Ceremony Tuesday evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.
Evans is excited about the nomination, but she said “Blood on the Mountain” was a passion project. A native West Virginian, she grew up hearing a little about the history of coal in West Virginia, but it mostly was doled out in tiny portions.
“You’d hear about the Hawk’s Nest disaster or the Battle of Blair Mountain maybe,” she said. “But it was like all that stuff was kept secret.”
Evans said she doesn’t believe she was the only one who felt like that.
She added, “Shirley Stewart Burns, who wrote ‘Bringing Down the Mountains,’ maybe the first book on mountain top removal, said when she was a kid, her history professor would close the door and say, ‘Now, I’m going to tell you about the mine wars.’”
History, important history, is quietly being erased, Evans said.
People were forgetting what happened, which took away their understanding of why things were they way they’d become.
“I just felt like it was time to find out what the truth really was.”
Evans and her crew spent seven years traveling and talking to people in Appalachia. They stayed with coal country folks and listened to their stories.
Everyone, she said, had a story to tell. Often, it was a story that hadn’t been told to anyone else.
It was a hard seven years, expensive and physically exhausting.
“Doing this, I lost my money, I lost my mind. I just about lost my life,” she said. “But I’d do it again. That’s how much I believed in this.”
“Blood on the Mountain” wasn’t her first film. Evans got started about 17 years ago. She worked on “The Appalachians,” a Public Broadcasting mini-series that still turns up during pledge drives. She also worked on “Coal Country” for Discovery Planet Green.
Evans didn’t set out to become a filmmaker. She was a psychologist and gerontologist. She has a degree in Women’s Studies. She said she worked as a hospital administrator and was a consultant for Proctor and Gamble.
She’d left West Virginia when she was 17 and lived all over the place, but West Virginia and Appalachia stayed with her. She said she’d meet others from the state and they would sometimes talk about how nobody knew what to make of them.
“I would tell people where I was from and I’d have to defend my culture,” Evans said. “There were so many stereotypes of Appalachia out there and many of them were vile and hurtful.”
She believed these stereotypes have cost West Virginia a lot — cost the state business and investment, and been damaging psychologically.
She wanted to make films that were fair and honest, that dispelled misrepresentation and gave some context to what life is like in Appalachia.
“Blood on the Mountain” was also meant as a warning to not forget the history, to not let it slip away because what happened in Appalachia could happen elsewhere.
Being nominated for the Emmy is an achievement, she said. Evans is giddy with excitement and hope but win or lose, she said all she wanted to accomplish was to show how proud she was of where she was from.
“If I win, I’m bringing it back home, for my people,” she said. “I’ll shout it out loud, how proud I am, whether I win or lose.”
“Blood on the Mountain” is available for viewing on Netflix.