Sunday, March 19, 2017

Harry Caudill: A must-watch documentary about the attorney, author, legislator, professor and environmental activist, airing at KET on Monday evening.

At WFPL, Michael Washburn reminds us about the life and work of Harry Caudill, subject of a documentary film premiering at KET on Monday, March 20 at 9:00 p.m. (see details below).

All of these books, and Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy in particular, share a common Kentucky-born ancestor, one of the most important American books ever published about the plight of the working poor. Harry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, first published in 1963, is an often-overlooked American masterpiece that has received credit for igniting Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” ...

... As Wendell Berry said when eulogizing Caudill in 1990, “He saw, and he said, in as many ways as he could find, that we are involved in a disaster. One the one hand, he saw the hills, the streams, the trees and the people; he saw, on the other hand, the great moneyed interests that had not the power to see the hills, the streams, the trees and the people, but only the power to destroy them.”

In 2015, filmmaker Jerry Deaton previewed his project.

Harry Caudill was a complex man worth remembering (Courier-Journal)

Three years ago I met Anne Caudill at a writer’s meeting in New Albany, Ind. We spoke briefly, I mentioned how I admired her late husband, Harry, and we parted ways. We met again at the same function a year later, I had produced a film on the feuds of Breathitt County, and I mentioned that a documentary on the life of Harry Caudill would be a good idea. She said she would think about it. Another year passed, eventually I convinced her on the merits of the project.

Film-making is no simple task, and finding the money for a project such as this is equally difficult. But, thanks to Christina Lee Brown in Louisville, along with several of my close friends and supporters, and Pinnacle Productions in Lexington, the Harry Caudill documentary project is underway ...

Deaton, a native of Breathitt County, seems the ideal choice to make this film about Caudill.

One could focus on his complexities, and produce a controversial and tantalizing film. But that would fall short of the mark and detract from his overall body of work that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. To focus just on his accomplishments would also miss the point, and were he alive to see it, likely anger this great man who cared so deeply about his mountains. The way I see it, a film about Caudill must show his life accomplishments, while placing his complexities in perspective, but most importantly, it must continue his efforts to help eastern Kentucky find its way. It must remind us that our mountain region is blessed with beauty, abundant resources and fine people, and that eastern Kentuckians must take the improvement of their beloved home into their own hands.

The KET press release brings us up to date. I'll be watching. Thanks to the Bookseller for the reminder.


Documentary spotlighting life, work of Harry Caudill to air on KET

Best known for his seminal 1963 work, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry Caudill (1922-1990) spent his entire career as an advocate for Eastern Kentucky. As an attorney, author, legislator, professor and environmental activist from Letcher County, Caudill worked to document – and rectify – the environmental and social consequences of what he believed were unfair practices by the region’s coal industry.

KET will air a new independent documentary, Harry Caudill: A Man of Courage, which spotlights Caudill’s decades-long work to help forge a better future for Eastern Kentucky. The program premieres on KET Monday, March 20 at 9/8 pm. Directed by Jerry Deaton, a Frankfort filmmaker and author, and produced by David Harl of Lexington’s Pinnacle Productions, the film includes archival footage and perspectives from those who knew Caudill well, including a rare interview with his widow, Mrs. Anne Frye Caudill.

“Caudill sent a wake-up call to the world when he published Night Comes to the Cumberlands, a critical and accurate description of a land and its people who had been exploited by an industry, betrayed by their leaders and forgotten by the rest of the country,” Deaton says in the film’s narration.

Night Comes to the Cumberlands is often credited for helping inspire a wave of federal relief efforts that targeted Eastern Kentucky in the late 1960s, including Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

And while Caudill’s signature work was published more than 50 year ago, many of its messages still resonate, Deaton believes. “We still don’t have the answers,” he told The Herald-Leader before the film’s 2016 Frankfort screening. “The main reason I did this documentary is that I believe [Caudill’s] message needs to stay alive. People need to hear it. More important than the man himself, with all due respect, is what he tried to tell us.”

Harl, the film’s producer, agrees. “We need to remember that Caudill’s message of protecting our environment and addressing poverty in Kentucky are not necessarily anti-coal positions. Today, we still need to look at more sustainable methods for obtaining resources and protecting the economic interests of our people,” he said.

Harry Caudill: A Man of Courage is an independent production of Pinnacle Productions, written and narrated by Jerry Deaton, produced by David Harl and edited by Michael Breeding.

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