Burning Kentucky was written, directed, and produced by Kentucky native, Bethany Brooke. Shot primarily in Possum Trot (Marshall County, KY) and Lynch (Harlan County, KY), this locally inspired and created film is coming to western KY for a special weekend screening. Brooke visits Sounds Good to discuss the film and it's Maiden Alley Cinema debut.
Described as "hazy Appalachian noir," Brooke describes the film as "a very real and raw emotional journey that takes place with a girl who lost her family in a tragic accident and is piecing the mystery of what happened that night back together. It takes place in the stunning landscapes of Kentucky and it's a powerful story. It's not a light romp in the park, but it's definitely touching and real." The story of Burning Kentucky came from a 300-page Appalachian tale, penned by Brooke, which she then adapted for the screen in 2012. "We didn't turn our cameras on until 2014 for the first time -- actually, in Possum Trot, which is close to you guys -- and we turned it on again in 2017. We've been editing and going through our festival circuit ever since, and we're just so excited that after seven years, we're able to bring this movie to Kentucky."
After attending the University of Kentucky, Brooke moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue acting. While there, Brooke began to miss her home state and wanted to create a story that would allow her to return to the place she loved the most. She also wanted to utilize her friends who were local artists still living in the area. To stay true to the authenticity of her Kentucky tale, Brooke was mindful to work with as many native Kentuckians as possible.
"Almost 80% of our cast and crew were Kentuckians. There were carpenters and there were electricians and farmers and artists. We brought everyone in, and we just had a phenomenal time and such a community. And Kentucky, you know, they were so helpful. We had the police station in Marshall County shutting down roads for us, and everyone just took such good care of us, so it was a win, win," Brooke explains. "I don't think anyone can make an indie film like Kentuckians because they're so resourceful and kind."
Brooke's attention to a genuine Kentucky perspective translated to all facets of making the film, including the non-native cast and crew members who joined the Burning Kentucky team. "One thing that I knew was that I wanted the story to be an internal perspective on Kentucky, instead of external. So that's why a lot of my actors were Kentuckians. Our production manager, our designer of our sets, all the pieces came from Kentucky. Our dialect coach came from Dara Tiller, a Hazard, KY native. We just made sure that around every corner, any new people that we brought in from LA or the outside really went through a rigorous process to understand the world and to paint this picture of beauty that we have in Kentucky, and that's what we wanted to show the world. Honesty, but beauty."
Burning Kentucky has met great success since its debut this year. The film won "Best Feature" at the 2019 Chattanooga Film Festival, "Best Narrative Feature" at the 2019 Garden State Film Festival, and "Best Actress" (Augie Duke) and "Best Feature" at the 2019 Mammoth Film Festival. Despite the film's lengthy creation process, Brooke is happy with the amount of care, effort (including driving 60,000 miles through KY small towns to scout locations), and deliberation that went into it. "We knew that we didn't want this movie to be finished until we had something we were really, really proud of, and that's why it took so long. But now, it feels like that's so worth it, and even more than the accolades of awards, we really feel like bringing it home to Kentucky and these first two screenings we just had in Louisville, the audience just had received the movie so beautifully, beyond how people have all over the country, but now we're getting to see audiences react to content that was created for them," Brooke says.
Brooke has plans to continue making films inspired by and set in Kentucky, including her next project which will be based on the Galilean Children's Home in eastern Kentucky. "I've always said that I think I'll have to do at least three Kentucky movies before I'm done, and maybe more, maybe I'm only a Kentucky filmmaker, I'm not sure," Brooke says. "I think that Kentucky steadily just has incredible talent come out of it. I did an audition of over 300 people for [Burning Kentucky], and I could've cast three different movies. There's just a lot of talent here. There's so many people that I think can stay in Kentucky, and that's why we want to bring work back to Kentucky so people can stay here and have creative outlets and opportunity."
Burning Kentucky will be showing at Paducah, Kentucky's Maiden Alley Cinema starting Friday, July 26th at 7 p.m. Screenings will continue at the same time through Tuesday, July 30th, with additional 4 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
"These are very special screenings to bring it home to Kentucky since we're still on our festival circuit. So these screenings won't happen again," Brooke explains. "So we just want people to come and soak in the atmosphere that they probably already know and feel the familiarity of a true Kentucky story."