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"Moundsville" gives a look into the lives left behind after corporations take what they want and then clear out. 

Moundsville, West Virginia is an unassuming town located on the Ohio River. It’s the epitome of a “classic” American town that was once home to a multitude of factories that have since left, leaving behind a struggling local economy. The town is characterized by a 2,200-year-old burial mound left behind by the Adena, a local hunter-gatherer nation that lived in Appalachia. 

A documentary by the same name was recently directed and produced by John Miller and David Bernabo, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent and a Pittsburgh filmmaker, respectively. It’s a narrative about the people that have been forgotten and the home they all share. 

“Moundsville” by no means is a thriller. It focuses on the people, their stories and what the rest of the country needs to know about blue-collar America. 

Corporations profited off of Moundsville’s strategic location in the 20th century. The town was home to world-renowned factories that produced toys (Marx Toys), glass (Fostoria Glass) and even airplanes (Fokker). People of Moundsville still recall the bustling and booming economy driven by industrialization and the free market. 

Bill Wnek, a retired teacher from Moundsville, said, “They come here because of a natural resource, which is coal. Coal begets natural gas. So that’s why industry originally comes here … Once you lose the industry, you lose the community.”

This documentary and the people within it are proof that capitalism is not sustainable. This economic system has eroded away the very backbone of America. These people are relics of a time when industrialization in this manner was viable like the system that created it. 

“Moundsville” tackles a menagerie of issues including the introduction of “box stores” like Walmart into the local economy and the impact of tourism on the area. The bustling downtown area, known as Jefferson Street, simply can’t beat the prices of the national chains. This is a commonality of many small towns across America, and it divides the population. 

The loss of dynamic, locally-owned downtowns is just the next step in the vast expansion of corporate America. Some are happy to have access to cheaper and plentiful goods while others mourn the loss of the “small town.” The documentary confronts these truths as well, maintaining a well-rounded and dynamic narrative led by the people who live it. 

The film’s website said it best: “By reckoning with deeper truths about the heartland and its economy, without nationalist nostalgia or liberal condescension, Moundsville plants seeds for better conversations about America’s future.” There’s a certain nuance to the flow and direction of “Moundsville” that highlights the story of a community. Moundsville is every small town struggling to maintain relevance and integrity. 

The narrative surrounding working-class America is usually disillusioned by politics and debate, and this documentary sets the record straight. The insightfulness of the stories from one town resonate with the plight of thousands. It’s incredibly special to see. 

Moundsville is a fractal of the much larger problem facing U.S. towns and cities. Industries that outsourced labor and resources to maximize profit sacrificed the idyllic American dream. The toxic underbelly of capitalism has been documented and recorded. Corporate parasites across the country have moved into towns, claimed their resources and left them without a sustainable structure to survive. This bypasses partisan lines. It affects real families. This isn’t a theory. 

“Moundsville” is a breath of fresh air for blue-collar representation. There’s no dramatization or hyperbole when it comes to peoples’ lives. Miller and Bernabo strike a special chord in the heart of this Appalachian woman with their intricate, personable storytelling that personifies working America. 

You can watch the film for yourself here

Summer Conley is a junior public policy and administration major. Contact Summer at conleysr@dukes.jmu.edu.