In today’s popular culture the term ‘hillbilly’ is often used to describe someone who is unsophisticated, poor and from the country. Maybe even a little backwards. However, in reality the term originally simply referred to someone hailing from the (southern) Appalachian Mountains or the Ozarks. Perceptions of this group have evolved from the independent pioneering great American frontiersman to being castigated as uneducated, violent and unruly.
Deep in the mountains of Kentucky resides Brian Ritchie and his family, generations of which have lived and worked in the Appalachian Mountains. He is acutely aware of the stereotypes attributed to ‘hillbillies’ and the way he is viewed within wider society. Caught between a romanticised past and an uncertain future, The Last Hillbilly both re-affirms and challenges these notions. Ritchie’s poetry conjures up conflicting emotions about a threatened existence.
In order to film this intimate portrait, Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkou head into the wild beyond to speak to a man who waxes lyrical about a way of life which is coming to an end. Whilst the rise and fall of this culture is closely linked to the coalmines, there is much more at stake than simply economic considerations. As he passes his knowledge down to a new generation, The Last Hillbilly is a wistful snapshot of a place in time. Set to a beautiful backdrop.
The Last Hillbilly screens at IDFA.