Appalshop News

An update from Willa Johnson, our director of films

1 year ago

It's been three weeks since catastrophic floods hit our offices in Whitesburg, KY, submerging the first floor of our main building in over six feet of water. Our radio station, our archive, and our theater took on heavy damages, as well as our film equipment room. 

Read on for a message from Willa Johnson, Director of Films at Appalshop as she reflects on the days ahead for Appalshop's Film Department: 

Dear Appalshop Community, 

This week our team began to sift through the mud-covered remains of our film equipment. As an organization that's documented Central Appalachian life for over fifty years, our film equipment room was almost a perfect time capsule of how stories have been told since the 1970s, submerged in the floodwaters three weeks ago. 

We pulled the first camera Appalshop ever purchased as our own non-profit, pictured above, both a sign of our beginnings as well as how far we've come. 

Growing from student to Director of Films at Appalshop has meant that I hold so much respect for the position and the history of our mediamakers who have led the way before me. Digging through the stench of molding gear with one of Appalshop’s esteemed filmmakers, Mimi Pickering, carried more weight in that moment for me. 

We couldn’t believe that we were here, under the solar pavilion next to our beloved building, throwing away expensive gear that we have used to tell the stories of what it means to be Appalachian for decades.

But I suppose that moment captured what it meant to be Appalachian more than anything - it captured the story of resilience even when we are tired of being resilient.

We held on to those first generation cameras, put them aside to be cleaned and used when the time comes to showcase them as part of the story of our roots.  We have been grieving so much, but we know this is only part of our story, and that we must pivot and look forward to what the future of storytelling looks like for us now. 

As we dream of that future we need support to help us be able to capture this moment we are in. We have created a wishlist here for gear to help us rebuild or you can make a donation to our film department here.  As we have been saying here at Appalshop, the work continues!


Willa K. Johnson
Director of Films

​P.S. Meet our inaugural 2022-2023 Film Cohort and see how you can collaborate with them here!

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