Clinch Mountain carves through Scott County with its long, serpent like body. It carries a stunning, natural beauty that is certainly easy to see with the naked eye. But it really takes a trained eye to capture its rugged stateliness in still photo or film.
Or in this case, two pairs of trained eyes.
Andrew and Chelsea Moynehan have done just this, using Clinch Mountain as an elaborate backdrop in a film that really focuses on another majestic beauty that is unique to the area – our people.
The documentary crafted by the Moynehans focuses on a small area that lies in the shadow cast by Clinch Mountain, Big Moccasin Road and the community and tradition found there. Several places and local events are shown throughout the film, but it takes a closer look at the lives of four people who at the time of filming lived on Big Moccasin. The Moynehans have simply and aptly named their film “Big Moccasin.”
Both the people and the landscape reimagined through their expert eyes radiate from the screen. The Moynehans have since taken the film and are sharing it around the globe. Most recently, the film premiered at the Visions du Reel Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland, where it received a very warm reception.
From an outside point of view, it would seem as though the Moynehans blindly hit the jackpot by stumbling across the area. That couldn’t be further from the truth however, as the film is a labor of love oozing in familiarity.
Chelsea was raised in Long Island, N.Y., while Andrew made his journey to the area from a bit farther out. Andrew is from Bradford, England.
Chelsea has family roots that go deep here in Scott County and Big Moccasin specifically. Chelsea’s grandmother, the late Geraldine Frazier, had a home in the Big Moccasin community. Frazier is one of central characters in the film.
Although Chelsea grew up in Long Island, which she describes as an extension of New York City, she visited her family often in Big Moccasin. The culture and beauty of the area left a lasting impression on Chelsea.
“I grew up in Long Island, with all the houses on top of each other and it is just like an extension of New York City in a suburban way,” Chelsea stated. “Everyone is a lawyer or doctor or banker or you know, something similar it seems. So it was different than Big Moccasin for sure.”
Chelsea mentioned many of her memories, from small ones to large ones. Some of her memories of the area includes the accents, family reunions, singing “Achy-Breaky Heart” with her cousins, the old J & P Market, gas pumps (which she wasn’t accustomed to), chewing tobacco, rifles, moonshine and the Carter Fold just to name a few.
Andrew brings something completely different to the film, as much of the shots in the film come from him, and through eyes viewing the area for the first time.
Andrew grew up in Northern England, which is primarily a rural and industrial area that differs greatly from the often depicted London lifestyle. Even though the northern half of England is considered to be working class of England and is somewhat rural, Andrew stated that it is still vastly different from Appalachia.
Andrew soon got his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of the Arts, London where he studied photography. Following that, he earned an elite one-year residency as one of only seven students selected from around the globe to attend New York City’s School of Visual Arts. This is where Andrew and Chelsea met. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from SVA.
When the two knew they were getting married, instead of having a large wedding they opted for a private smaller ceremony. They used funds originally allocated for the wedding to help finance their film. As Chelsea stated, the film truly is their “baby.”
The couple filmed on location in the area from early October 2012 until late November 2012. As they made their way into the area to film, Andrew was coming to the area with no idea of what to expect. The printed off map directions led them down Big Moccasin from the upper end of the road in Russell County.
“We came that way and got there it was late evening and started to get dark,” Andrew stated. “It was a little bit eerily. I kept wondering ‘Where are we?’.
“Chelsea was very passionate about her original idea. I was naïve to the whole thing and didn’t know what to expect. We just kept driving down this winding road and there were no people around. Coming from the city and millions people and now suddenly it is just us two in this car with nobody around. It was a little bit scary at first to be sure.”
Andrew was quick to point out that although he had a far different accent than found here as well as a different nationality, the locals all embraced him.
“My nationality and accent were kind of a novelty and people embraced that,” he stated. “I wasn’t alienated. People wanted to know things and embrace it and liked it.It was good actually, allowed a lot of conversation. It wasn’t a conversation ender, it was beginner.”
The film centers around four primary characters – Mark “Polo” Harris, “Mouse,” the late Geraldine Frazier and the late Steve Burke. The documentary explores their relationships, faith, ideas and culture.
To Andrew and Chelsea, these four folks were “larger than life.”
The Moynehans still maintain a great relationship with many of the people they met and especially central characters in the film. Chelsea is still a pen pal with the granddaughter of “Mouse” and they send several letters to each other a month. Chelsea often receives bracelets and things of that nature in the letters.
“We really love everyone,” remarked Chelsea. “There is a special connection there with us and a lot of people and it is really important, it means a lot to us.”
Because Chelsea had visited the area since she was just a child, she had a very innocent idea of the area.
“I was still looking at the area in a very childlike way,” she said. “I wanted to show it in a way that I remembered it and in a way that I felt was true. I didn’t want to sugar coat it, but I wanted to show it how it really is. You can’t only talk about good things because that isn’t how life is, but I didn’t want to pinpoint the bad things either.
“Really, we wanted to make a film about people. That was our entire goal here. This is such a unique place, and one of the things that I respect and that I love about it is that it is timeless. I like it is still there and I want to hold on to it and the traditions found there.”
The film is slated to keep meandering around Europe at a few more film festivals, showcasing the area’s rugged beauty and the unique culture found in the area.
Once the tour in Europe is completed, the film is slated to make its debut in North America.
For more information on the documentary, viewers can go to their Facebook page at <www.facebook.com/BigMoccasinMovie> or visit their main web site at <www.bigmoccasin.com>.