The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later

Wednesday, January 8th, 7:00pm

Friends of Appalshop NYC Presents

The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later

Whitesburg Epic

Dir. Bill Richardson. 1971, 8 min

The short film Whitesburg Epic was made by the early trainees and is a premiere example of Appalshop’s early aesthetic and its philosophy of producing media about the region from the region.  It uses “man on the street” reportage to investigate the issues faced by local people on Main Street in Whitesburg, Kentucky, who talk about growing up in a small town, their reactions to the war in Southeast Asia, and the recent massacre at Kent State.  The interviewees include local students, business people, a teacher, and a coal miner on his way home from work. The range of answers to the questions posed by the Appalshop film crew are at the same time specifically local (several people complain about the recent closing of the town’s only movie theater), and national in scope (reflecting society’s different opinions about the Vietnam War). In the 40+ years since the film was shot, it has become a stunningly evocative reflection of the time and of the place it was made.

Stranger with a Camera


Dir. Elizabeth Barret, 2000, 60 min

"A camera is like a gun," says filmmaker Colin Low of the National Film Board of Canada in the Appalshop documentary Stranger With a Camera. The program explores the 1967 killing by Hobart Ison of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Connor, who was working on an exhibition film with a New York production company while gathering images of poverty in the Kentucky coalfields. Years later media artist Elizabeth Barret reflects on this tragic encounter between one man with a camera and one man with a gun by focusing on the story as a pivot point for an interrogation of media itself while offering a meditation on Appalachia’s place in the American imagination.

The shooting death of Hugh O’Connor in Jeremiah, Kentucky occurred at the height of the nation’s War on Poverty, a massive program of economic and social reform launched in 1964. Appalachia was a central battleground region as the U.S. government aimed to address poverty that persisted in the midst of the America’s general prosperity. Stranger With A Camera illuminates this backdrop and circumstances of a singular incident, yet it is emblematic of today's unresolved questions and issues concerning income inequality in America.

Discussion with director Elizabeth Barret and Appalshop staff members to directly follow.



Appalshop was founded in 1969 as the Community Film Workshop of Appalachia, one of a group of workshops around the country established through a War on Poverty funding initiative.  The workshops were intended to train minorities and the economically disadvantaged in the production and use of film so that they could address the needs of their communities.  



50 years after Johnson announces the War on Poverty, we revisit the work of Appalshop through these two films.