I've found myself supporting a handful of political campaigns during this 2020 election season including that of Cathy Kunkel, a West Virginia Democrat running for Congress in traditional GOP stronghold WV-2. Now then, I have no idea how Kunkel would feel about writer/director Eleanor Goldfield's filmmaking debut Hard Road of Hope. I also have no idea how Goldfield would feel about Kunkel's candidacy. What I do know, I suppose, is that my following of Kunkel's campaign has given me a bit of a glimpse inside an increasingly restless West Virginia ready for a better way of life than the propaganda that has been handed down from generation to generation.
In some ways, I guess you could say, right about now I was ready for Goldfield's Hard Road of Hope, a workhorse documentary that's blue collar in presentation yet fiercely strong in its voice of advocacy and truth.
“It's hard to win around here, it really is,” says Lynn Beatty, one of the film's passionate voices and a resident of Doddridge County, the epicenter of West Virginia's fracking boom that is further decimating West Virginia's wondrous landscape. A neighbor, Linda Ireland echoes that sentiment: “You feel like there's nothing you can do. Because you have these gas companies with all their resources. And the state seems to be on their side as well.”
There's no mistaking the strong environmental voice in Hard Road of Hope, a film that features such voices as Keepers of the Mountain President and Chair Paul Corbit Brown, West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Board Member Wilma Steele, Kanawha Forest Coalition Chad Cordell, and Crushing Colonialism Executive Director Jen Deerinwater along with a host of other West Virginia residents and former miners.
However, if you starting to think that Hard Road of Hope is just another pro-change doc speaking up for Appalachians while reinforcing those dreadful media-driven stereotypes you're fortunately going to be wrong.
While Goldfield herself appears throughout the film, the vast majority of Hard Road of Hope is handed over to these West Virginians themselves. Hard Road of Hope doesn't speak for West Virginians but with West Virginians and, perhaps most refreshingly, the film avoids the histrionic stereotypes so often found in this type of film and instead presents West Virginians who are well informed, passionate, educated, and passionately proud of their West Virginia roots. The West Virginia presented here is a land of people who've always been willing to work hard and they're still ready to work hard for a better future than the lies they've been fed by a corporate America unconcerned with their past, present, or future. Hard Road of Hope doesn't place the blame for what's unfolded in West Virginia so much on those working class West Virginians just trying to survive, but instead casts blame on the coal companies that developed exploitation of the land and its people and the gas companies that have come in and further refined and perfected that exploitation.
Goldfield is a longtime creative activist and journalist whose work has appeared on Free Speech TV where she produced/hosted the weekly radical news show "Act Out!" for five years. Her print work has appeared via Mint Press News, ROAR, Popular Resistance, RT and more. She is host of the Act Out! podcast and co-hosts the podcast Common Censored with Lee Camp. Goldfield's voice is undeniable, well informed, passionate, and unwavering. At times, her confidence is so high that she disrupts the film's otherwise down home aura that radiates from the majority of the West Virginia voices present here.
The truth is that Hard Road of Hope is at its best and strongest when it's amplifying the voices of these passionate and proud "rednecks" reviving a history of rising up and uniting and caring for one another and standing up against those who would do them and their land harm. Hard Road of Hope is a simple yet powerful reminder that West Virginia is home to a radical working class of people who are increasingly figuring out that their hard work has been making others rich while leaving themselves too often behind. Grassroots activists, including Goldfield herself, are uniting for the sake of basic human rights amidst the beauty of the hills of Southern Appalachia so beautifully captured by Goldfield's lens. It's a beauty that remains even amidst, as Goldfield writes, "the methane-streaked highways of the fracking corridor" and the "decapitated peaks to the winding holler roads."
Hard Road of Hope is, indeed, a workhorse documentary. It's an indie project that feels indie from beginning to end. Goldfield avoids unnecessary distractions and never detours into Michael Moore-styled entertainment. The message is the thing here and Goldfield delivers it well throughout the film's 54 minute running time. You can pick up the film for yourself by visiting the film's website linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic