Mari-Lynn Evans, the co-director of Blood on the Mountain, was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to have a conversation with me about her new documentary and her life growing up in West Virginia.
Mari-Lynn, although born in Buckhannon, was raised by her grandparents, William D. and LaVon Mick Currence, in Bulltown, in Braxton County.
The farm she was raised on spanned 2,000 acres, where they raised cattle and produced vegetables for Kroger and other larger grocery stores. Unfortunately, in the 1970s, her grandparents’ farm was taken as part of the development of Burnsville Lake and Dam.
Evans attended Burnsville High School. After graduating, she went on to college where she earned degrees in Psychology, Women’s Studies and Gerontology. After college, she had a successful career in the health care industry.
She rose to the ranks of Vice President of Summa Health Systems of Akron, Ohio, and Director of the Center for Senior Health. She was an 8-time National Institutes of Health funded researcher and then a Senior Brand Consultant for Proctor & Gamble.
Although she was at the top of her game professionally at the time, Evans felt that the Appalachia of her roots was not receiving the exposure that it should.
She wanted to see it represented in the media in a respectful light. Its people had been continually depicted in the media as hillbillies and rednecks.
This certainly hit a low point when Jesco White got national exposure in the documentary, “The Dancing Outlaw”. Evans felt compelled to tell the “real story” of Appalachia, so she became a producer and director.
Her first project was a documentary called “The Appalachians,” produced for PBS. This was a 3-hour mini-series which focused on the history of the Appalachias and its people, narrated by Naomi Judd.
From there, Evans produced “Coal Country,” the only mountaintop removal documentary that has been nationally distributed.
She was so moved by the subject matter that she then became an activist for the movement to stop MTR. Roughly 17 years ago, Evans came back to West Virginia, which changed the course of her life. She and her crew were there when the events of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster were unfolding.
Evans knew she had to create a historical document chronicling the history of mining and mining related disasters in West Virginia, much of which had been systemically not covered or suppressed by the government and/or the coal industry.
Her producer for Blood on the Mountain was also the producer for both “Gasland” and “Gasland Part 2,” both of which were critically acclaimed looks at fracking’s effects on the environment.
Filmmaking is a long process, and most people underestimate the time and dedication that goes into it. From its inception to the final premiere, a film can take years and sometimes even decades to produce.
Documentaries can take a lifetime, depending on the story one is trying to tell. For Evans, Blood on the Mountain really started in 2010, after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
She started talking to historians, scholars and everyday people who started telling her “the truth” about West Virginia history. According to Evans, these discussions revealed the true history of West Virginia, one ugly and marred by a life and culture that have been devalued. This is what was kept out of the history books.
She went on to say, “We found the censored history of Hawks Nest, Buffalo Creek, and the Battle of Blair Mountain. We have over 16 minutes of archival footage; most have never been seen before.”
Some aspects of getting this story from page to screen were difficult. On her previous projects, Evans had been able to secure funding fairly easily.
This time however, securing money to make the documentary was “brutal.” Evans and her crew wanted to keep the integrity of the film intact.
To do this, they did not accept money from environmental or labor groups.
“However, we have over 40 outreach partners who are screening the film for their members and groups. Netflix purchased the film and it began streaming on May 1,” she added.
Since May 1, her life has been extra busy. Once a film is bought by a company like Netflix, it is in everyone’s household and on their devices 24/7.
Thank goodness Evans is not stopping; she is already at work on her next documentary. Not too bad for a gal born right here in Upshur County.