What about Auburn? It seems like a simple question, really, but for the people who live there and in countless small communities just like it, there isn’t one simple way to answer that question. Filmmaker and photographer Richard Anderson committed himself to find those answers and to make sure the rest of the world had the opportunity to get to know Auburn, West Virginia.

Coming from a background in economics, Anderson set out to show the impact that modern corporations and transportation were having on small towns in Appalachia in his latest documentary, “What About Auburn?” What came together to create this film was so much more than that. Anderson spoke to local residents across multiple generations to put together a picture of just how close-knit and bustling this community had been.

Auburn West Virginia documentary stills memorabilia from the binders

Auburn is currently seeing its second round of oil and gas business, though this time around is much different than the first time. In the beginning, Auburn was a rich land full of farming and agriculture. Soon enough the original oil boom trickled down from Pennsylvania to West Virginia and a number of small communities, just like Auburn, popped up to accommodate the bustling jobs and people. What once was barely a mile stretch of dirt road became West Virginia’s own Rodeo Drive. In Auburn alone, there were two stores, hotels, four churches, a school, and a movie theatre. There were families moving in, raising children, and those who came for work were making lives there. But as modern conveniences became more prevalent, and the booming local economy moved the town forward, a little piece of what made Auburn the kind of community it was, started to fade. 

Auburn West Virginia documentary stills

Todd Burge, a well known local musician was selected as the musical director for the “What About Auburn?” – the perfect man for the job. Burge contributed both original pieces and the production of other artists’ work featured in the film to put everyone in the audience on the same journey through the history and community that is Auburn. The film features music by Tim O’Brien, The Nichols Family, The Carpenter Ants, Rachel Eddy, and Mike Morningstar, who was the subject of a previous work by the creator, Richard Anderson. The music selected for the film was clearly thought out and fit perfectly with the subject and the interviewees featured. About the film itself, Burge says, “ As I watch the documentary, I see my bloodline. I see my grandparents and hear their voices, their concerns, their struggles, and laughter.”

Of the process of compiling information and choosing to create this documentary, Anderson says that he spends about a year doing the research on a subject once he has begun to consider it for a film. The inspiration for telling the story of Auburn, said Anderson, was a blog post that he stumbled across by local resident Lissa Lucas. Lucas’s blog “Holler from the Hollers” got Anderson’s attention and the wheels were set in motion. After the planning and the studying, came the creating. Anderson proudly stated that “nothing was scripted, I just let them tell their story.”

Auburn West Virginia documentary stills

What a story was told. There was one particular quote that stood out from the film, something that most, if not all, people here in the MOV can identify with. In a segment talking about ice cream socials, and the importance of them to the community, “No matter what path life takes you down, you always come back.”

“What About Auburn?” premieres at The Historic Smoot Theatre on Friday, May 10th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00 for adults, $10.00 for students. Click here for more information and to buy tickets!