Moundsville Gets Spotlight in Documentary

Photo by Alan Olson The former West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, shown here, hosts guided tours and numerous events throughout the year.

A documentary featuring Moundsville was chosen to represent the archetypal post-industrial American town, a role that journalist John Miller said was perfect for the city.

Miller, who has written about such towns and cities for the Wall Street Journal in previous years, hopes that “Moundsville” — a documentary produced with Pittsburgh filmmaker Dave Bernabo — will serve as a feature on life in many cities in America. The movie will debut at 7 p.m. Friday in The Strand Theater.

“It’s sort of the biography of the town, and it’s a story a lot of towns have gone through, including Wheeling,” Miller said. “You have settlement, the rise of industry in the 19th, 20th centuries, and then the factories leaving. Then, this new reality, which has gas and oil.”

Miller said he wanted to tell a story focusing on Appalachia that didn’t focus on President Donald Trump or opioids, and to break the public perception of a sad, used region.

“One of the things I wanted to do was show that it’s not the hell that a lot of outsiders (perceive),” Miller said. “There’s still communities here, just different than before. Moundsville and Glen Dale used to have the world’s biggest toy plant, and a massive glass factory.”

“Moundsville,” Miller hopes, will tell the ubiquitous American story of a town left after industry left for greener pastures. He said many people who have seen the film so far have said it evokes nostalgia for their own disparate communities.

Miller said he’d written about Moundsville in 2013 for the Wall Street Journal, which inspired his urge to tell a larger story about the region.

The movie was shot almost entirely in Moundsville, save for one interview with a Wheeling resident, as well as a Pittsburgh resident who originally was from the area. Miller said the film crew visited Moundsville around a dozen times over the past year, with research beginning in November 2017. Filming began in April.

“I think (residents) are worried it’ll be too negative, because that’s their perception of outsiders doing stuff about the region,” he observed. “And there is some decline. Population has declined, the factories have gone. But it’s a story of opportunity — I think the void left by the factories closing can be filled by all kinds of things. …

“Most people in Appalachia are not overdosing on opioids,” he said. “There’s an economy that gets ignored by coverage outside the city.”

Moundsville City Council began its Tuesday meeting by enthusing about the movie. Mayor Allen Hendershot expressed a desire to see those who attend the meeting in the theater during the debut.

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