(05/07/2005)

Scenes from Calhoun County, West Virginia

Not since the TV documentary "West Virginia" has there been as much interest in a story about people in the mountains of Appalachia.

The first of the three-part series titled "The Appalachians" will premiere this Sunday on PBS at 7 p.m.

The documentary, which cost nearly $2 million to produce over a period of four years was the work of West Virginia native Mari-Lynn Evans.

It will likely be viewed in 70 million America homes.

"I hope people watch this and have a realistic, honest feeling about who the Appalachian people are," said Evans."I hope they understand the sacrifices and contributions they have made to the greater society."

Evans said the film depicts a lifestyle America craves.

Narrated by county music performer Naomi Judd, the film has been getting rave reviews around the country. It also contains the last interview with Johnny Cash before his death.

"Appalachia represents a simpler time and place for a lot of people," she said. "It's very appealing to people today. I try to explain it to my son, Zachary, who is 20. He has been to London, Paris, Amsterdam and major U.S. cities. I didn't eat in a restaurant until I was 16." Evans, a native of Braxton County, grew up on her grandparents Braxton farm, where the land provided fresh vegetables and family members instilled pride in each other.

She says her grandfather, Bill Currence, taught her to love her roots. Her grandmother, LaVon Currence, gave her the rich gift of confidence.

Her grandparents participated in a ten-year battle to save their land and their roots to the construction of a giant dam. The family lost the battle.

Evans said the four-year project was a life-long dream, a passion. Beyond raising the production costs, it required interviews with a wide range of people from the famous to the ordinary worker, research with major Appalachian universities and the collecting of historical photographs.

The series required more than 100 hours of filming, boiled down to three hours.

"I did it for my grandmother," Evans said with an unmistakable quiver in her voice. "She was such an incredible person who wanted so much for me. She raised me to be proud of who I was and where I came from. I loved the land. I wanted to honor my grandmother and the people of Appalachia."

"I wish she could have lived to see it. She would be so proud," said Evans.

The documentary includes stories told by residents who love the land. It will look at the boom and crash cycles for coal, timber and steel. There will also be glimpses of the cultural quilt of music, literature, folklore and art.

"The Appalachians" airs in West Virginia on PBS in three one-hour segments at 7 p.m. Sunday and May 15 and 22. Also, the entire documentary will be aired 8 to 11 p.m. on May 18.


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