Academic journal article Journalism History

Stranger with a Camera."

Academic journal article Journalism History

Stranger with a Camera."

Article excerpt

"Stranger with a Camera." Filmed documentary produced by Elizabeth Barret. San Francisco: California Newsreel, 2000, 60-minute VHS tape. Purchase $195. Web site: www.newsreel.org.

For photojournalists and media scholars, "Stranger with a Camera" is a documentary worth seeing, even though it does not live up to its promise or its press.

Elizabeth Barret is a documentarian who was reared in eastern Kentucky by a social activist lawyer and father and trained at Appalshop, an incubator for Appalachian filmmakers. For her as a youth in the 1960s, the poverty of the coal belt was figuratively and literally on the other side of the tracks. Three decades later, however, she seems to be exorcising personal ghosts with this film about the poverty of her youth that was kept at arms length and a sensational murder case that it spawned.

In the 1960s, BBC and CBS film crews came to eastern Kentucky to document outof-work coal miners and their malnourished, uneducated families in mountainside shacks. Their pictures seemed to belie the American Dream and launched President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" initiative. Some local residents, such as landowner Hobart Ison, resented these embarrassing intrusions into their way of life.

In September 1967, a Canadian film crew headed by Hugh O'Connor was wrapping up production for yet another Appalachian expose when an outraged Ison appeared brandishing a gun. During his trial for killing O'Connor, Ison became a local hero for fellow powerbrokers, who resented "outside agitators." He eventually served one year in prison.

"Stranger with a Camera" refers not only to the murdered O'Connor but also to Barret, a stranger to her own culture, which she eventually comes to know through her documentary work. …

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