The documentary "Up the Ridge" takes a sobering look at how a rural community in Southwest Virginia embraced the prison industry after the town's primary employer, a coal company, went out of business.
But the documentary's biggest breakthrough may be on the soundtrack. It's part traditional mountain music and part hip-hop. The result is hill-hop or hick-hop and one of its creators is from Richmond.
The soundtrack is a collaboration between Richmond-based hip-hop artist Adolphus "Danja Mowf" Maples and Dirk Powell, a folk musician. Powell's strummy banjo trips along over Danja Mowf's chunky beats. It's helped spur interest in a whole new realm of hip-hop.
"The collaboration was probably not as strange as one would think," Maples says. During the project he learned that even though banjos are associated with folk music and bluegrass, they're a variation on a traditional African instrument. He says he can also see similarities between Appalachian quilting and graffiti as ways to visually display what's culturally important.
"Low-income urban and low-income rural have a lot in common," says Nick Szuberla, one of the film's directors. He notes that the film's underlying message deals with two low-income communities that are set against each other when inmates from urban areas across the country are shipped in to fill cells in the rural prison.
That contrast has other ramifications. Primarily it explores the guards' treatment of prisoners at Wallens State Prison, which has caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, an international group that aims to expose human rights violations.
"The music score has made the film interesting to a different audience," Szuberla says, adding he's been surprised that the soundtrack already has been downloaded thousands of times. The documentary is a product of the Appalshop media center in Whitesburg, Ky., on the Virginia border.
"Up the Ridge" will be shown at a free screening Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Wesley Memorial United Church at 1720 Mechanicsville Turnpike. To learn more visit www.appalshop.org. S