‘Burning Kentucky’ Building Bridges: Local film in progress recognizes community in the Commonwealth
by Atanas Golev
“My priority has always been to make Kentucky look like the magical place that it is.”
Writer/director Bethany Brooke Anderson was born in Palm Beach, Florida. But the roots on her father’s side of the family run deep in Appalachia. Her family moved to Kentucky when she was young to chase their country dream. They’d always hoped of living a self-sustainable, home-schooling, animal-filled life on the mountains. They would sit on their Lexington front porch, drink coffee, and recount their plans in awesome detail.
When her parents divorced, that put the dream on hold, and Anderson grew up with an unfulfilled longing to be somewhere else.
She graduated from Tates Creek High School, went to UK for theatre performance, and then moved to LA with her now-husband to pursue acting.
That’s where Burning Kentucky originated. Living in a cockroach-infested studio apartment in LA, Anderson and her husband began writing a story.
“This 300 page Appalachian tale was our comfort blanket,” Anderson says. “We drank moonshine and listened to bluegrass and just got lost in the world of it. I had never loved Kentucky so much as when I left it.”
Anderson then shelved the story for years as she pursued acting. After feeling unfulfilled “checking into other people’s dreams,” she knew it was time to adapt Burning Kentucky for the screen—and tell this story that is woven into who she is.
Now, Anderson is back in the bluegrass. Her mission is to meet locals, hunt for the thirst for storytelling in Kentucky communities, and showcase the beauty and talent of Kentucky at film festivals internationally. To change minds. To broaden ideas. To challenge and soothe humanity.
Burning Kentucky is being shot on a tiny budget in small towns across Kentucky to show what’s possible when local talent, business, and charity come together. For six months of pre-production, a film crew followed Anderson and Producer Joshua Mark Robinson around the state, scouting for location and meeting locals. So far, they’ve driven over twenty-three thousand miles around the state. They’ve been met with plenty Southern hospitality.
“This is a family project,” says the director. “A Kentucky Project. One that has a thriving audience before the film has ever been released.”
So far, the film has been completely funded by Kentuckians and sponsored by authentic local businesses (including Ale 8, West Sixth Brewery, and Maiden Alley Cinema). Communities around Kentucky have provided free transportation, locations, props, food, lodging, and much more. Tourism boards, mayors, and business owners have all helped facilitate the shoot. Because of the outreach, and the crew’s mission to get to know locals, the production has acquired over 6,500 Facebook followers—all gained by handshakes, hugs, and front porch talks.
In return for the hospitality, the movie wants to showcase not only the beauty of the bluegrass, but the talent that Kentucky has to offer. The cast and crew are over 85 percent Kentuckian. Over three hundred locals came to auditions in Paducah, Lexington, and Hazard. Ten lead roles were given to Kentucky actors.
One of these is 15-year old Emilie Dhir, a SCAPA student.
“She gave a powerful audition. I remember it brought me to tears,” says Anderson.
But she wasn’t right for the role.
“She wasn’t right for the role of Aria. She was too old for the younger version and too young for the older version. After days of fighting with myself about it, I took a creative leap and cast her as both younger and older Aria. I knew she could pull both ages off and that she may even win awards with her performance.”
“She blew us away on set. A little Kentucky girl who had never been in a movie before—she is our lead.”
Anderson’s hope is to revive the arts locally by giving Kentuckians the opportunity to be on a film set that is at a Hollywood level. The majority of the budget of the film has gone towards equipment, including an Alexa XT camera, 40-year-old anamorphic lenses, giant lights on lifts for the night scenes, and loads of pyrotechnics. This gives local actors the opportunity to gain valuable experience and grow professionally without ever leaving the bluegrass.
But despite the elaborate technology, Burning Kentucky aims to focus the narrative on the heart and the beauty of Kentucky. The story is set in the Appalachian mountains, and it is a narrative of addiction, love, loyalty, right, and wrong.
“Film speaks to the world like no other medium. We want to tell Kentucky’s story.”
The film is a thriller, and some things in it are meant to make people uncomfortable. But that’s because life itself is uncomfortable.
Fire is a major motif used in the film, one of the driving forces behind the narrative, and the inspiration for the title. “Fire is the symbolic cream of the crop. It forces a rebirth,” says Anderson.
The movie is now one third complete, having shot for 12 days in October. It will resume filming in February 2015. The filmmakers are now looking for local business sponsors, executive producers, and featured extras. In addition, they have partnered with Appalachia Mission of Hope and Community Kitchen and are continuing to search for local charities to be involved with.
The remaining scenes will be shot in Harlan, Bath Co., Irvine, Benton, and Paducah.
Upon completion, Burning Kentucky will be submitted to the Sundance, Cannes, and Tribeca Film Festivals, along many others. Anderson also hopes to have local premieres at the Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah and at The Kentucky Theatre.
But recognition isn’t what it’s all about for Anderson. It’s about building community and getting to understand those around you.
“It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. And to be able to tell a story I am in love with, with people I love, in a state I love—I’m trying to soak in every minute. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe it. ”
This article appears on page 21 of the February 2015 print edition of HJ.
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