WVTF Radio: Big Stone Gap, the Movie: Love Letter to Southwestern VA Town Goes National

By Robbie Harris | WVTF Radio

The movie, “Big Stone Gap” opens in 250 theaters across the country today.  And for its writer and director, it’s a very personal project. Adriana Trigiani grew up in that southwestern Virginia town and she was determined to make this film there.

Ashley Judd stars in Big Stone Gap. Her character is named Ave Maria Mulligan. She says, “When I was a girl and we drove past the coal mines, it looked like a story book to me.  It seemed an army of men were doing something so important that could change the world. So Mama would say, ‘Every time you light a lamp to read, you can thank a coal miner.’ I was born and raised in the hills of Virginia when coal was king.”

And that’s not all this character has in common with the film’s writer and director. Bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani, had been trying to get this movie made for 15 years.

That took determination because she insisted on shooting the movie entirely in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

“It’s where the story was born and I felt really strongly about that and now I’m so happy that I stuck to that because I feel that the movie is such a tribute to the state of Virginia and its people.”

The Appalachian Mountains, dressed in their fall finery, are almost as much a character in the film as its stars, including Whoopi Goldberg as Fleeta and Patrick Wilson, who also grew up in Big Stone Gap, as Jack. Trigiani is a bestselling author who has lived in New York for many years - yet her connection to her hometown has remained strong. The film is based on her series of novels called “Home to Big Stone Gap.” And while its not autobiographical, it is surely comes out of her sense of that place and time. Trigiani married later in life and the main character, at forty, calls herself the town spinster.

“It’s really a movie if you like you’ve hit a wall and you feel like well –It’s over. What’s going to happen to me? Is this the end of the road? And this character, this community in Big Stone gap makes you feel like anything is possible at this point in your life.”

Wade Bradley, CEO of Altar Identity, which produced the film.

“What really attracted us to the film is that it was just a beautifully written story. What’s different in what we do than, let’s say, the majors, is that we can focus on a film like this. It’s a rom com, it can be a bit of tearjerker and it just elicits cheers of joy in the end. It’s really not the kind of film Hollywood wants to make.  They want to make a film for $30 or $40 million.”

The budget for Big Stone Gap was under $3.5 million. About a third of that came back to the producers in state incentives.  Trigiani says that’s what helped make this a labor of love for the actors, the locals, involved both on screen and off and for the writer, now director, herself.

“It really says everything that I hoped it would and it celebrates this place that we come from and the people that I grew up with that I love very deeply and the work that they did and how they survived with the labor of their own hands and at the end of the day it was art. And now we have a movie that really celebrates that.”