Directed by Julien Nitzberg
Produced by Johnny Knoxville
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand”
Leonardo da Vinci
Do yourself a favor. If you have a film festival in your town, or even if it is a few hours away, drive to it and discover films that you may never see on the big screen, on DVD or on cable. A perfect example of this is a film like The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia that recently played at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival showcased 85 features, both narrative and documentary, and 47 short films from 38 countries. You should peruse the website for the festival and read about the films that screened this year, it was an impressive assortment. And among the cinematic offerings was this wild portrait of a family fighting, dancing, living and dying in the hills of West Virginia.
Before we delve into the family covered in this documentary film, let me provide a bit of history on one of the members of the family. Jesco White is mountain dancer and the subject of the cult documentary film The Dancing Outlaw (1991) that featured Jesco’s talents for dancing as well as his outspoken and often violent views on country living and marital bliss.
Flash forward 18 years and director Julien Nitzberg and producer Johnny Knoxville (MTV’s Jackass) can’t wait to travel into the hills of West Virginia to turn the cameras on the near psychotic Jesco and his equally crazy family.
Trust me when I say you have never seen a family like this. This family isn’t merely dysfunctional: this family is a collection drug sniffing, crime committing, and gun slinging southerners whose actions and way of life is almost too incredible to believe
The matriarch of the Boone County White family is Bertie May, who regales the filmmaker with true tales of death, suicide and destruction that has befallen her family over the years. All of the White family has tales of woe and violence. In fact, Kirk White ( a woman) tells a story of a violent encounter with her ex-husband in which her biggest regret is not slitting his throat. Kirk brags about her penchant for violence as easily as if she is describing a trip to the grocery store. Sue Bob used to be a stripper, Mamie has had trouble with the law and they are all involved with drug dealing in Boone County.
Did I mention that in addition to all of this; most of the White clan have been declared “mentally ill” and draw every variety of public assistance? A fact that is not only spoken off proudly by family members, but the skill of duping the system is passed down like fine china among the family.
The family doesn’t hold back just because the camera is there. No, they let it all hang out. Just wait until you see Bertie Mae’s 85th birthday celebration. This isn’t a tea and biscuit affair, no this is a pot and coke fueled get-together that can’t be believed.
The White family blames their behavior on the fact that the majority of people in Boone County make their living in the nearby coal mines, a very dangerous occupation. It is the living in constant danger that makes not only their family, but just about everyone in West Virginia, have a carefree and reckless attitude about life and death. This uncontrolled way of living is in their blood.
Does the film celebrate this kind of unrepentant and disreputable lifestyle or is it a cautionary tale meant to warn viewers of the dangers of drugs, alcohol and unapologetic hell-raising? That answer would be different for each viewer of the film. The director takes a decidedly nonjudgmental stance on the subject but does seem to relish in the unseemly actions of the subjects. But, they definitely should not step in and stop any of these behaviors because they are there to document, and not judge.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed this doc, despite some “Jerry Springer-ish” moments. It is truly a gaze into a family that has decided to live a life that is the antithesis of typical suburban living.
Video, Audio and Bonus Features will not be reviewed as this was a screener disc from the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.