Chautauqua Lecture Examines "Hillbilly"

Published on September 22, 2017

A film “for anyone who is a hillbilly or anyone who knows one” will be spotlighted at Eastern Kentucky University on Thursday, Oct. 5.

Rubin photoCo-director Sally Rubin will be presenting scenes from the forthcoming work, “Hillbilly, the Documentary: 100 Years of Appalachia in TV and Film.” The presentation will serve as a special event for Appalachian Studies Week, as well as the fourth installment in the 2017-18 Chautauqua series, themed “Transformations.” Free and open to the public, the event will begin at 7:30 p.m. in O’Donnell Hall of the Whitlock Building.

Appalachia has a history unlike any other region of the United States. Its century-and-a-half of reliance on the coal industry has led to a “boom and bust” economy, creating a unique sense of poverty that has garnered national media attention. “Hillbilly” seeks to dissect some of that media attention by exploring more than a hundred years of media representation of Appalachian people and culture. It analyzes the impact of the hillbilly stereotype and forces viewers to question how they see and think about poor, white, rural America.

Rubin, whose mother is from Calderwood, Tennessee, spent much of her childhood visiting family in the hollows of the Smoky Mountains. Those experiences would later shape her film-making career, especially her best known work, “Deep Down,” a feature-length documentary following two friends in eastern Kentucky who find themselves divided over mountaintop-removal coal mining near their homes. The film was later nominated for an Emmy.

She recently completed “Life on the Line,” a documentary about a teenage girl living on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her other credits include “The Last Mountain,” a film about her father’s death in a hiking accident. She is also a full-time documentary professor at Chapman University and a graduate of the master’s degree program in documentary at Stanford University.

Rubin will be introduced by Silas House, executive producer of the film and an Appalachian author best known for his New York Times bestsellers “A Parchment of Leaves” and “Clay’s Quilt.” The Laurel County native received his bachelor’s degree in English from EKU and later returned to Eastern to serve as writer-in-residence from 2004 to 2005. In 2010, House became the NEH chair in Appalachian studies at Berea College.

The lecture will be sponsored by EKU Honors; the Appalachian Studies Program; the Department of Communication, Film Techniques and Technology; and the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Social Work.

For more information about the Chautauqua lecture series, visit or contact Chautauqua Lecture Coordinator Erik Liddell at