Focusing on ‘hillbilly’ culture

Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal will be the featured guest Jan. 27 at The Independents, a monthly series of screenings and discussions on independent Canadian cinema presented by York University’s Department of Film & Video, Faculty of Fine Arts.

Baichwal will screen and discuss her film The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (2002). Liz Czach, a long-time Canadian film programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, will host the presentation and moderate discussion.

The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia is a documentary about renowned photographer Shelby Lee Adams. For 30 years, he photographed the mountain folk of eastern Kentucky, earning art-world fame with portraits that capture the raw poetry of impoverished Appalachian life: pipe-smoking grannies with busted screen doors, children flashing toothless smiles and snake-handlers passing jars of strychnine.

Right: An image by Shelby Lee Adams of an Appalachian family

As the film develops, through interviews and archival footage, the audience becomes better acquainted with both Adams and the extraordinary people who stand in front of his camera. The film leads the audience deeper into the most isolated of hollows hidden within the mountains of Kentucky.

During the film, Baichwal probes Adams’ relationship to both his subjects and his medium, while questioning the role his images play in a broader cultural context – is it exploitation? Is Adams promoting the “hillbilly” stereotype? Or is his photography simply a means to document a way of life and a society that is far-removed from mainstream American culture?

The True Meaning of Pictures marked its international premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2002. The film won two 2003 Gemini Awards, one for Best Direction in a Documentary Program and the other for Best Arts Documentary. The film earned praises from critics including Brian D. Johnson of Maclean’s, who wrote, “[This] remarkable documentary forces us to reexamine the very nature of image-making.”

Right: Jennifer Baichwal

Baichwal’s other film credits include Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles which won a 1999 Emmy Award for Best Arts Documentary and a 1998 Genie Award for Best Feature Length Documentary, and The Holier It Gets which received a 2000 Gemini Award for Best Writing and the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary, as well as widespread critical acclaim.

The Independents takes place on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 7pm in the Nat Taylor Cinema, located in N102 Ross Building, on the Keele campus. Admission is free. The Independents is presented in association with the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, York University. For more information about the screening and The Independents, call ext. 22174.