Tag Archives: Keely Kernan

Filmmaker Finds Compelling Story in Her Own ‘Backyard’

Impact of fracking the focus of Keely Kernan’s latest work

By Michael M. Barrick

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. – Award-winning filmmaker Keely Kernan has already demonstrated that she is willing to travel anywhere to produce work that enlightens people about social and environmental topics. Kernan, 30, a native of the Appalachian Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, has traveled to West Africa, Haiti and Central America for film projects. Now, however, Kernan, working from this historic hamlet in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, is staying much closer to home, but still on a topic of significant social and environmental importance.

Keely Kernan at work

Keely Kernan at work

Kernan is covering the impacts of fracking upon people and the communities in which they live in a feature film titled “In the Hills and Hollows.” She began production in May of 2014 and has spent hundreds of hours researching and connecting with communities throughout West Virginia, and shooting the film. Currently, 60 percent of the film has been shot. She is in the process of conducting a Kickstarter campaign to secure funding needed to continue shooting and to contract post-production team members. That campaign ends on June 20, which is also the 152nd anniversary of West Virginia’s admittance into the Union as a state. (Additional information about the Kickstarter campaign can be found below).

Recently, Kernan found herself in opposite corners of the state. She visited Wetzel County to get an up-close look at one of the most heavily fracked counties in the Mountain State. Located in the northwestern portion of the state, it borders Ohio and Pennsylvania. She also went to Monroe County, located in the southeastern corner of the state; there she covered the impact of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile 42” pipeline that would originate in Wetzel County and cross into Virginia from Monroe County. There, residents are fighting energy companies attempting to get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the pipeline because approval will mean the companies can use eminent domain to cross private property to build the pipeline.Film Photo

Wherever she goes, Kernan seeks out those people whose stories are representative of the impacts of the state’s reliance upon a fossil fuel mono-economy. She explains, “I decided to make this documentary after spending a significant amount of time meeting with residents throughout West Virginia affected by the natural gas boom. What makes this story unique is that in many ways this is a repeat of history. We have seen the legacy of the boom and bust coal industry, the poisoning of our waterways, and wealth and resources leaving the state.”

Allen Johnson with Christians for the Mountains commented upon Kernan’s work. “I have seen two of Keely’s presentations as well as watched her filming on site. Keely’s work is driven by her keen heart of compassion and zeal for justice, coupled with high quality professional skill. Her filming will move hearts and minds to correct abuses to people and land and toward a much-needed shift of policy and practice to build a bright future for West Virginia.”

Kernan has traveled to cover the experiences of Annie and John Seay, who left their home last summer to get away from the fracking industry which surrounded their home. She spent countless days and hours with Myra Bonhage-Hale, a Lewis County lavender farmer who is also moving away from the farm she has owned for 35 years because of the impact the fracking industry is having close to her 110-acre farm. Bonhage-Hale is returning to her native Maryland. Kernan has captured the stories of residents in Doddridge County, Tyler County, Harrison County and many others. Kernan explained why she has traveled so extensively and intensively, spending hours with many of her subjects. “Ultimately, I decided to make this film to help share the stories of residents who live here, at ground zero of today’s energy, and to help promote a very important conversation about what type of future we want to have as citizens.”

Other journalists covering the topic, as well as environmental activists across the state, will cross paths with Kernan repeatedly. She has been at an industry-sponsored meeting and Jackson’s Mill last summer, a Town Hall community meeting in the tiny village of Ireland sponsored by two environmental nonprofits on a snowy and frigid Saturday in February, and a conference in Charleston where she spoke on the role of filmmaking in telling the story of preservationist efforts in Appalachia. She has sat with dozens of individuals, spent times at their homes, and seen citizens in numerous community meetings mobilize to challenge the energy industry.

Kernan shared, “While on this journey I have met many incredible people and it has been a privilege getting to know all of them. Residents have invested just as much in the film as I have invested in helping to tell their stories. They have spent hours showing me their communities, and have often times offered me a place to stay while organizing a visit in very rural parts of West Virginia. Their time and support has made this film possible.”

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign please visit:
hillshollowsdoc.com

To read related articles about “In the Hills and Hollows,” as well as view some brief clips from the film, visit:
Kickstarter Campaign Launched for West Virginia-Based Feature Film
Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts
Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

A West Virginian tells of the assault upon her way of life

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – For more than a century, since the days of the logging industry and the beginning of coal mining, hardy West Virginia workers knew they were risking their lives every time they set foot on a steep mountainside to cut down a tree or work a longwall in the damp underground.

Then, the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster made it clear that workers were not the only ones being asked to risk their lives for the fossil fuel extraction industry – average citizens were. That is the history of West Virginia; sadly, it is also the present.

Fracking has ruined the lives and livelihoods of countless West Virginians. The dangers from fracking are well-documented. In West Virginia, they are simply being ignored – except by a few people determined to have their story told.

One such West Virginian is Tina Del Prete. She told her story to filmmaker Keely Kernan, who is presently filming her feature film about fracking, “In the Hills and Hollows.” Keely recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the cost of production of the film.

Del Prete has lived on her 30-acre farm for 37 years. Fracking started in her area about five or six years ago. “The first thing we noticed was the destruction and the traffic,” said Del Prete. “The destruction was from clear cutting for roads, well pads, compressor stations, metering stations, pipelines, and rights-of-way.”

She admitted she was nervous about talking to Kernan on camera, but said, “I did it so people would know what’s going on.” She continued, “I want people to know how destructive it is to the environment, to the community it’s in, and to the people. The cumulative effect impacts everyone in this county.” While some are encouraged by a slowdown in the industry because of a drop in oil prices, Del Prete, offered, “I don’t think it’s over by a long shot.”

Help tell the story
After listening to Tina tell her story, if you want to help spread her story so that the fossil-fuel mono-economy will not take precedence over the lives of West Virginians and all of those impacted by fracking, please visit the website below to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign. By giving, you will help ensure that the Tina’s story and the accounts of so many others are heard – and heeded.

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign please visit:
hillshollowsdoc.com

About Keely Kernan
Keely Kernan is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Her work is dedicated to producing media that enlightens people about relevant social and environmental topics.  As a storyteller she is driven by a desire to connect the viewer and inspire conversations that will influence and initiate reform.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project.

Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Story of Myra Bonhage-Hale reveals that fracking is destructive beyond what we can see

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – Myra Bonhage-Hale was getting hugs from people short, tall, young and old on her farm in Lewis County at her final Lavender Fair on May 9. Situated at the end of a three-mile gravel road connecting with U.S. Rt. 33 about halfway between Weston and Glenville, the remote location could not keep her admirers away. The hugs were part of the collective, extended community “goodbye” to Bonhage-Hale as she leaves the farm she has owned for 35 years to move back to her native Maryland.

At 80, Hale has made countless friends in the Mountain State. Indeed, as she was receiving yet another hug in her kitchen, she said simply, with tears in the corner of her eyes, “I’ve got so many friends.” Yet, she is moving out of the West Virginia hollow she loves so much because of the adverse impacts of the fracking industry.

The dozens of visitors gathering in this secluded hollow expressed their sadness at her departure, but assured her they understood. Nevertheless, conversations among small groups gathered under shade trees inevitably turned to the sadness people held in their hearts – not only for Myra, but also her family, her friends and, indeed, the entire state of West Virginia.

Bonhage-Hale did not make her decision in haste. At a meeting of the Lewis County Commission last Oct. 6, she implored commissioners to act upon their duty to protect the citizens and environment of the county. She said, “When I came to West Virginia as a single parent to the abandoned farm now known as La Paix, I thought of it as ‘Almost Heaven.’” Later, as she concluded her remarks, she said, “As I leave West Virginia, with my 34 years of hard work and love and joy and friendship at La Paix behind me, I think of West Virginia as ‘Almost Hell.’ La Paix is for sale. La Paix means peace. I plan to take it with me. The powers that be will not let me keep it here.” Indeed, sensing that her remarks were falling on deaf ears, she turned from the podium and with a quivering voice said to her son, “I need to get out of here.” While she was talking about the commission meeting room, her words were spoken with such determination that one sensed they had a double meaning. She was alluding, as well, it seemed, to West Virginia.

As word spread over the past several months that Bonhage-Hale was indeed moving, several of her friends asked that she have one more Lavender Fair before leaving. She agreed. She and her guests were greeted with a lovely West Virginia spring day. As each entered the farm, they were welcomed by a sign that reminded them why this hollow is so special – sacred even. The sign includes the name given the farm by Bonhage-Hale, “La Paix,” which is French for “peace.” The long banner includes the same greeting in several languages.

Based on the outpouring of love shown her this day, Bonhage-Hale has succeeded in living out the words that greet each of her visitors. While the steep slopes surrounding her farm house seemingly welcome and embrace the visitor, it is the joyful nature of Bonhage-Hale that creates the atmosphere. It is common for her to use the peace sign as a greeting and close out conversations and emails with the simple word, “Joy!”

It is that nature that seemed to overwhelm one visitor as she watched a screening of an extended trailer of Keely’s film. It includes a segment of Bonhage-Hale on her farm, alluding to the lack of respect by the extraction industry for people and the earth. After watching it, the person had to excuse herself. After composing herself, she explained, “This is so wrong. This is such a beautiful place. Myra is so sweet. She has always opened her home to us. This festival has brought many people together. The energy industry does not care about people. It does not care about land. It just cares about profit, no matter who it hurts. It breaks my heart.”

Later, when Bonhage-Hale was sitting in her kitchen, now quiet after most of the guests had left, she shared some departing thoughts about La Paix. Though the Lavender Fair was held only about 10 years of the 35 that she lived on the farm, Bonhage-Hale noted that it had been reflective of the purpose of La Paix. “The Lavender Fair is a culmination of research, friends, groups, apprentices and gardens into one great spiritual, energetic whole. This place has such magnificent energy because of the energy we’ve put into it. Also, what the earth puts into it. It works both ways.”

Pausing to think back over the 35 years, Bonhage-Hale offered, “Everyone that was here was happy. A lot of things go into the wholeness of La Paix. We’ve had wonderful apprentices, wonderful help and wonderful volunteers. People who come here appreciate the beauty of the land, the beauty of West Virginia.”

However, she concluded, “I don’t think West Virginia is being honored now by the powers that be. I’m not leaving West Virginia. It left me.”

To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign (including paintings donated by Myra Bonhage-Hale as rewards, please visit):
hillshollowsdoc.com

To view the trailer of Myra Bonhage-Hale from “In the Hills and Hollows,” please visit:
Meet Myra Bonhage-Hale

About Keely Kernan
Keely Kernan is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Her work is dedicated to producing media that enlightens people about relevant social and environmental topics. As a storyteller she is driven by a desire to connect the viewer and inspire conversations that will influence and initiate reform.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project.

The Earth Under Assault

Three years after Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, Appalachia and all of the planet is as vulnerable as ever to fossil fuel industry

Earth 638831main_globe_east_2048

Credit: NASA

April 22, 2018 — Three years ago this morning, I was having breakfast with our daughter Lindsay in Charleston, W.Va., reflecting upon the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference we had organized with the help of countless of others. It has broken up the day before, and we allowed ourselves an extra night int he Mountain State’s capital to visit our favorite restaurant for dinner — Leonora’s Spagetti House.

We were hopeful. Despite a steady, cold rain that morning, the outlook we took from the conference reflected that spring morning; while it was cold and rainy, the grays and browns of the West Virginia winter had finally turned green in the Kanawha Valley. Indeed, during the warm and sunny days of the conference, the 50 or so gathered often looked longingly out the window at the budding leaves gently moving from the invisible breeze.

But we stayed inside, because we were gathered for a common and critical purpose — preserving Appalachia and all of the planet. We presumed, as you will read below from the article posted shortly after the gathering, that people from all backgrounds and disciplines could and would agree that the earth is sacred because it is the source of life.

We did. However, three years later, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has been crushing all efforts at preserving our air, land and water. EQT (Pittsburgh), Dominion (Richmond), and Duke Energy (Charlotte) have set up a nice little triangle of fossil fuel dominance in Appalachia. Since 2010, they have bought the legislators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal and state regulatory agencies have ignored the law and will of the people and greased the tracks for the very companies they are supposed to hold in check.

I am saddened, but I am in awe of our allies (many mentioned below) that continue to fight the good fight to preserve Mother Earth. On this Earth Day, let us recommit ourselves to being part of that fight. — MMB

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.

It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.

The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.

Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking.
Photo by Keely Kernan

As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”

Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”

Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”

St. John's XXIII Pastoral Center. Photo by Allen Johnson

St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center.
Photo by Allen Johnson

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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On Twitter: @appchronicle