Filmmaker Interview: 'Wiley's Last Resort' creators remind us to not judge a book by its cover
"Wiley's Last Resort" highlights Jim Webb establishing Wiley’s Last Resort, a place for local activists, musicians, artists, and dreamers to celebrate Appalachian culture and help fight back against strip mining because coal mining around his area was destroying the mountains he loves. Before the Reel South Season 8 premiere, digital producer Heather Nunerley connected with the filmmakers, Evan Mascagni and Shawn Lind, to learn more about the creation of the film and select behind-the-scenes moments.
You can stream "Wiley's Last Resort" on PBS online today!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Heather: How did the film come about? How did you find your subject?
Shawn: I knew our main character as a dear friend, colleague, and master artist of words for several years before the beginning of this film. One day, Jim took me on one of his guided tours in the Jeep. We picked up garbage, cleared some brush and trees, and just enjoyed the day listening to the names of every location on his property. Every spot had an intentional name and reason: sometimes a pun or a play on words, other’s personal. That night, as the moon and flamingo string lights reflected on the pond, I realized that everything needed for a good story was here: interesting character, lively location, and the tension of issues surrounding the region.
Evan: I was in Whitesburg, Kentucky, filming for a different documentary when I heard Jim’s radio show live on WMMT. He had me laughing out loud and I decided I had to drop what I was doing and go meet him. I pulled into Appalshop, waited for his show to end, and then he graciously invited me up to the Resort. He handed me a beer, we sat down to talk, and the rest is history. I knew there was a story to be told as soon as I met Jim and visited the Resort.
Shawn: After Jim’s passing, I knew the film I wanted to make was not possible. Evan and I connected and agreed to collaborate on a single project, instead of two unfinished films.
Heather: Can you describe the creative process and how you landed on your editing style?
Evan: After Jim passed away, we sought out every photo and video clip of him that existed. Through his amazing community, we were able to find footage that really helped us piece the story together.
Shawn: It was a constant work in progress. We couldn’t find the right narrative thread to hold the film together. Bringing in our editors, Joseph East and Duncan Pop, helped us more than we could imagine.
Heather: Do you have any updates to share about your subjects that you can share with us?
Shawn: Of course, everyone still misses their friend. The odd thing was that Jim’s activism began after the 1977 flood in Williamson, WV, and we completed Wiley's Last Resort just before the monstrous July 28, 2022 flooding in Eastern Kentucky that engulfed many analog radio recordings he created.
In addition, Wiley’s Last Resort is still promoting arts, music, and Appalachian culture. After the 2022 flooding, those on the mountain went straight to helping people. Jim is smiling as his legacy is still fighting for equity, justice, and human beans (*snort).
Evan: Up at the Resort, a new non-profit, M.A.R.S. Collective is carrying on Jim’s legacy through a variety of events and festivals that take place throughout the year. You can learn more at: mars-collective.org.
Heather: What are you working on next? Anything cool to share?
Evan: I’m working on a few other documentaries that take place in Kentucky, one that will be premiering later this year. I’m excited to continue telling important stories from my home state.
Shawn: I have a project that features a down to earth and humble blacksmith. He is able to turn junk yard scrap metal into gorgeous and functional knives that will last for generations.
Heather: After watching your film, what do you hope resonates with the Reel South audience?
Shawn: I hope people realize that nobody can be generalized or stereotyped. We are all multifaceted humans. Regardless of where one lives, everyone deserves to be respected and their homes and communities should not be exploited.
Heather: Can you tell us your favorite part of the film?
Shawn: Jim is my favorite part! He was always so generous and supportive of everyone. I’m glad he lives on in memories and in Wiley’s Last Resort.
Evan: “God Damn It.” It’s one of my favorite poems from Jim and a perfect way to end the film. Rest in Peace Wiley - I’ll see ya on the radio.