Stranger With A Camera
Tags: community, methodology/statistics, rural/urban, appalachia, ethnography, poverty, rural sociology, 21 to 60 mins
Access: no online access, PBS trailer
Summary: "Stranger With A Camera" lays bare the literal and figurative differences between being a sociologist versus being a sociological subject, as well as who counts as an "insider" versus an "outsider" in a small community. Set in the mountains of Central Appalachia, an iconic field site and setting for many twentieth century social scientists and documentary-makers, it tells the story of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Conner and how in the summer of 1967, Hobart Ison, a local landlord, angry about O'Conner's presence on his property, (as well as media representations of Appalachia in general), shot and killed O'Conner. Produced with great methodological insight and raw sensitivity by Director Elizabeth Barret and Editor Lucy Massie Phenix, two women with close relationships to the film's setting, (Barret was born, raised and still lives in Central Appalachia, Phenix is from Kentucky), "Stranger" brings into focus then blurs again many of the gray areas which emerge not only with regards to questions about what is right and what is wrong with the practice of social science, but also the everyday ways members of a community come together and interact with one another, particularly when there is a stranger with a camera around. When Ison's violent act finally came to trial it was, in many ways, excused by his neighbors. Though it is difficult to tell whether their support was an act of local solidarity since many of them, (including the coal miner O'Conner was trying to get a photograph of when he was instantly killed by Ison's deadly shot), were not only Ison's confreres and kin, but also, his tenants. Still, in the end there truly is a difference, "Stranger" teaches us, between living in a place versus simply passing through, even when we care about or even love it so much we want to document it -- like O'Conner (and, now, Barret and Phenix) did Ison's home town.
Submitted By: Audrey Sprenger
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