A History of Mountains and People

Producer and Writer—Jamie Ross

Jamie Ross has worked on documentary films for over twenty-five years as a writer, editor and producer. Her passion for the mountains of Appalachia began years before the first scene of the series was shot, and her roots in the region run thousands of years deep through her Catawba and Miami ancestors.

Before the filming began, she traveled through the mountains exploring archives and scouting locations for a series that would bring the rich and grand story of the Appalachian region to the public. She thought long and hard about the deep hold the landscape had on its inhabitants and determined that to tell the true story of the region the Appalachian mountains themselves would have to be the main character. As a result, she and Ross Spears began what was to become the first environmental history series of any region ever on film, APPALACHIA: A History of Mountains and People

Jamie began her work with film in 1981 when she edited the PBS version of AGEE an Academy Award nominated biography of the writer James Agee.  She has worked as a researcher, writer, and production consultant for Tell About the South: Voices in Black and White, a series on Southern literature, and as the principal writer and associate producer for Long Shadows: the Legacy of the American Civil War. Jamie Ross has over ten years experience as an educational media specialist and was designated a National Humanities Scholar by the Council on Basic Education. She has also authored several study guides and articles on history and culture.

Jamie Ross has always had a deep interest in the cultural connections between people and the places they inhabit. Her own life has been profoundly shaped by dramatic landscapes—the bayous of Louisiana and the mountains of the Blue Ridge. She is currently completing a book on the land ethic of a West Virginia community where folks have farmed the same acres for centuries, and will continue her documentary work with Red Dirt Projects, a production company dedicated to giving voice to forgotten communities.

Director and Writer—Ross Spears

Ross Spears has been the Producer/Director/Writer for seven award-winning feature documentaries on subjects relevant to American culture and American history. Ross Spears is one of only two filmmakers in America to have had both a series (Tell About the South: Voices in Black and White) and an individual feature (To Render a Life) to be nominated Best Documentary of the Year by the International Documentary Association (IDA).  All of Ross Spears’ films have been shown on PBS and have been judged among the best ever made in their subject areas.

Indeed, as a lifelong native of Appalachia, as well as a filmmaker who has devoted much of his creative energy to telling stories related to Appalachia, Project Director Ross Spears brings a wealth of personal knowledge and experience to the project. As a member of the Advisory Board to the upcoming Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Spears has been surrounded by scholars of all persuasions—from geologists and botanists to historians and musicologists—all of whom are centering their attention on the region called Appalachia.

His most recent project is Tell About the South: Voices in Black and White, a three-part series on the history of Modern Southern Literature.  Lewis Simpson, Editor of The Southern Review called Tell About the South “A great film about a remarkable group of storytellers told by another remarkable storyteller. A landmark documentary.”  Tell About the South was picked as an Editors Choice by Booklist  magazine, and features the greatest writers of the South, past and present, including interviews with most of the greatest living Southern writers.

Ross Spears’ other films include AGEE (1980)—the only film biography of an American writer ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. AGEE  also won a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival. The Electric Valley (1983), a history of the TVA, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Documentary. Long Shadows  (1986) was selected to be part of the Southern Circuit Filmmakers Tour in 1990. To Render a Life, a feature documentary film based on the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Film critic Andrew Sarris has called To Render a Life  “One of the best films of 1992.”  The International Documentary Association nominated To Render a Life as Best Documentary of the Year in 1993. It also won a Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival.

Consulting Producer—Paul Wagner

Paul Wagner is an internationally recognized Writer/Producer/Director. He won an Academy Award for Best Documentary for The Stone Carvers in 1984 and a National Emmy Award for A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America in 1998.  A native of Appalachia and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, Paul Wagner’s other documentary feature productions include Out of Ireland: the Story of the Irish in America, and Miles of Smiles, as well as the dramatic feature Windhorse.

Paul Wagner joined the APPALACHIA production in spring, 2000. Paul Wagner has brought to the project his long experience as a documentary filmmaker and writer, as well as his personal background as a native of Eastern Kentucky. Now a resident of the Blue Ridge region of Virginia, Paul Wagner has often chosen Appalachian subject matter for his films.  In A Congress of Wonders he dramatized the work of Kentucky writer, Ed McClanahan.  In East of the Blue Ridge he explored the literary and sports culture of his Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia. In Out of Ireland Paul Wagner created a feature length portrayal of Irish immigration to America, including sections of Appalachia.