ShinersVoices from Owsley County


An 86 minute documentary. Coming soon! 

Along with stunning original music, high school students write and perform a play about growing up in rural Appalachia. While overcoming problems of addiction in one of the nation's poorest counties, the inspiring students travel from their small town to Kentucky’s high school theater competition. The hearts and voices of the young people at Owsley County High School in eastern Kentucky shine as they share their story.

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Seth McClellan, filmmaker: As a filmmaker, I’m fascinated and committed to reframing stories through unfamiliar voices. My hope is by lifting up youth voices we can hear their concerns and complex challenges in fresh ways. Many of the films I’ve helped make have engaged with using nonviolence to effect change - how can we see social problems as problems that can be fixed rather than personal enemies that oppose us. Youth voices help us do that. They help us see the complexity and potential solutions without demonizing and victim blaming. This film, in a small but real way, can help further that conversation as we all work towards a better future. 

Bob Martin, producer: As a producer, I’ve been involved in dozens of youth media projects and original community story plays in Eastern Kentucky. This film comes out of my extensive work in Owsley County, building trust, creating dialogue, and collaborating with the community in creating original live theater productions. These processes have been central to my practice as a teaching artist. Sometimes the outcomes of these processes are very small in footprint and other times they grow and grow wanting to see more light. The Shiners play has been one to grow and grow, always developing more possibilities along the way. 

The organic and parallel evolution of the creative processes in the Shiners is both an expansion of my creative practice and also an example of what success looks like to me. Success for me is also that we are working by, with and for community while transparently practicing and supporting the highest artistic process and aesthetics possible. The challenge in working this way is that there is always the possibility that access to the community could be closed off quickly if an unavoidable cultural conflict arose. If this happens the project suffers but more importantly the youth suffer from not being able to fully express themselves and being further exposed to the negativity associated with their story not being told because there’s something essentially wrong with it – or just the recurrent theme in their lives that adults don’t do what they say they will do. 

Having collaborated within this community for a decade, there is a level of trust and the possibility for dialogue should something happen that threatens the process though I’m always mindful of the challenge and aware the stakes are particularly high when working with and in a vulnerable community with vulnerable members that entrust their stories to you.