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"Rock Castle Gorge" Short Film Celebrates Appalachian Heritage

How do you go home again, when home is no longer there? A new documentary on a small mountain community, called “Rock Castle Gorge” is about  a place that lost its town, but not its story.  Robbie Harris has more.

“This is the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway meandering through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina...."

That’s Beverly Woody, a descendant of a mountain community displaced in the 1930’s, to make way for construction of one of the great roadways of this country, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“But our story isn’t about the Parkway, it’s about my people who lived on the land, long before the Parkway was built.”

Charlie Thompson is a cultural anthropologist at Duke University, also a descendant, who wrote a book called 'Rock Castle Home' that became this short film. “Learning about Rock Castle’s people, helps us remember the history, culture and stories that speak of the resilience of the human spirit, underlie almost every place on earth,” he says.

Doctor Ann Mitchell Whisnant teaches graduate studies at Duke University. She says, when the parkway was built in the nineteen-thirties, attempts were made to make the parkway more like a tourist attraction than an authentic representation of the real Appalachia….

“There’s a whole phenomenon of getting very enamored with a certain mythology about Appalachia. Particularly the idea that somehow this is a repository of American pioneer Values, and that somehow, the old ways, have persisted in this strange and odd region in ways that they haven’t in other parts of the country.”

Whisnant says, when the parkway was built, existing modern buildings – for the time-- were sometimes removed and small log cabins added to the route of the parkway to play up the scenery and the stereotypes.

“What’s wonderful about the fact that the Park Service bought this property is that we can go back.”

That’s Leslie Shelor.

“We can go to the cemeteries, we can go to the house sites and show other people, which we could not have done if it had gone into other private hands.”

The one-hour film is by Charlie Thompson, who runs the center for documentary studies at Duke University. “Rock Castle Home” premiers this week in Floyd and next week in Roanoke.