Some Paducahans will have their names up in lights tonight as a locally-funded and shot film makes its Maiden Alley Cinema debut tonight.
Written and directed by Lexington-born Bethany Brooke Anderson, "Burning Kentucky" is the smoldering tale of an Appalachian girl trying to piece together the memory of the event that left her without a family. Filmed primarily on a Possum Trot farm -- nestled in the backwoods of Marshall County -- and in eastern Kentucky's Harlan County, Anderson describes it as a "gritty Appalachian folklore thriller."
Though tonight's 7 o'clock premiere at Maiden Alley is sold out, "Burning Kentucky" will continue to play downtown through Tuesday. To see show times or purchase tickets, visit www.maidenalleycinema.org.
Anderson was proud to showcase talent from around the state while displaying the beauty of the commonwealth on the screen.
"Out of all of the artists that are involved about 85% are Kentuckians, so everything from our sets to our lead actress is pure Kentucky," Anderson said. "The reason I wanted to shoot this movie in Kentucky is my love of the state and obsession with Appalachian culture, but also because I have so many artist friends that were living and working in the state making great work.
"It's a love letter to the region that tells the gritty truth, while showing an idealistic beauty that we've all come to love."
The decision to base the production in western Kentucky stemmed from a state-crisscrossing search for locations and resources.
"We found this community to have an incredible desire to be a part of a film, and I just feel like the city of Paducah really supports their arts community," Anderson explained. "We found a lot of talent and really beautiful land around here."
One of the friends Anderson enlisted to her cause was Joshua Mark Robinson, a Paducah-based actor and filmmaker, who served as a producer. Robinson acted in the film along with Paducah native Hayden Hendley.
Overall, Robinson is overjoyed with how the film turned out.
"The movie is more than I ever thought it would be. It's visually a beautiful film. Right off the bat it looks like a movie, and I'm super proud of that. It's not just a good film, it's a very good film, and I think strangers would say the same thing."
The reception it has received on the festival circuit would suggest the film world shares his opinion. Since debuting in February, "Burning Kentucky" has won "Best Feature" at Tennessee's Chattanooga Film Festival and Mammoth Film Festival in California, as well as "Best Narrative Feature" at the Garden State Film Festival in New Jersey.
"Words cannot describe how excited I am that we get to show the movie at Maiden Alley," said Robinson, a father of three who works in the Paducah river industry. "This movie would not have gotten done if not for the people of western Kentucky, above all else. It's really cool that in the first four festivals we entered we won five awards -- with three of them being Best Picture -- but this weekend is my Oscars."
"Burning Kentucky" began filming in 2014 and returned to the area in 2017 for a second round of shooting. The gap in filming, coupled with the presence of child actors, complicated the production, explained Robinson.
"The only negative for me about the whole thing is that people will never get to see the film that we initially began making," he said. "Bethany had to totally rewrite the script and make it a different story, all while trying to hold on to what we shot. I really loved that script and no one will ever get to watch it."
Paducah's Purple Toad Winery was one of the leading sponsors of the production, alongside Kentucky For Kentucky, Ale-8-One and West Sixth Brewing.
"We had so much hometown love from businesses. About 90% of our funding came from Kentuckians," Anderson said. "All of our supporting companies were ones that we felt enhance the communities around them and support the arts."
Maiden Alley Cinema, where the film will be screened this weekend, was another of the film's chief local supporters.
"With roots in our gorgeous state and beyond, 'Burning Kentucky' is a labor of love with so many moving parts, both locally and abroad," Landee Bryant, MAC's executive director, said. "It is exciting to be the western Kentucky venue in which all the people involved can witness their passion in a communal way."