Pittsburgh filmmakers study industrial decline via W.Va. town |

Pittsburgh filmmakers study industrial decline via W.Va. town

Shirley McMarlin

Journalist John W. Miller first traveled through Moundsville, W.Va., while reporting on global mining for the Wall Street Journal.

The son of American expats living in Brussels, Belgium, Miller also has reported for Time and the Belgian news wires.

In the midst of a mid-life crisis, “or maybe I was burned out,” Miller, 41, says he quit the Journal and moved to Pittsburgh. Casting about for independent, local projects, he remembered Moundsville, a formerly thriving industrial town now struggling — like so many others — to reinvent itself, or just to survive.

He says he thought about writing a book but, after he met Pittsburgh filmmaker Dave Bernabo at a party, the two decided to make a documentary about the town.

“We’re co-directors, and (Bernabo) did all the camera work and technical editing,” Miller says.

The pair received funding from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Pittsburgh premiere

“Moundsville” will have its local premiere Jan. 17 in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

The initial screening is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 7 in the 96-year-old Strand Theatre in Moundsville, which is south of Wheeling on the banks of the Ohio River. Miller says he and Bernabo are expecting to fill the 400-seat theater.

Miller says the story of Moundsville is like the story of other places, large and small, throughout the Midwest. One thing that sets it apart, though, is the feature that gives the town its name — a 60-foot-high burial mound created by the Adena people some 2,500 years ago.

“All these towns had some of the most important factories in the world,” he says. “Drive through them and they all have a nice bank built in the 1920s and a few shops on the main street, and now they’re not thriving.”

Surrounded by a wealth of natural resources, including coal, Moundsville was home to Louis Marx and Co., once the world’s largest toy manufacturer.

In a recent article for, Miller listed other things once made there, including steel, aluminum, bricks, glass and even airplanes.

Starting in the 1970s, global competition changed all that. These days, though unemployment in the area is relatively low, the high-paying factory jobs have given way to the lower wages of the service industry.

Many residents have adapted by starting their own cottage industries.

The story of change

In their documentary, Miller says he and Bernabo wanted to tell the story of change in the voices of Moundsville residents, without framing it through the larger narrative of “Trump, opioids and the rusting factory.”

“People in small town America don’t really know what’s going on in Washington, but they know what’s going on in their town,” he says. “Some of my favorite feedback I’ve heard from people who’ve seen the movie is that it reminds them of their hometown.”

Miller says he doesn’t see people being angry so much as sad about a way of life lost, and he thinks “Moundsville” can help them get through their grieving process.

It’s also instructive to think of the long-gone Adena and their mound.

“You have to remember that cultures change,” he says. “You can’t live in the past.”

The documentary will be available to rent or buy starting Dec. 15 at . Pre-orders are available.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

Journalist John Miller and filmmaker Dave Bernabo of Pittsburgh have made a documentary that explores industrial decline in Moundsville, W.Va., site of a Native American burial mound that gives the town its name.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.