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Television Previews: Life in Appalachia

Friday, November 26, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Poverty isn't limited to the inner city.

It's a simple statement, somewhat obvious even, but it was the guiding light that inspired documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy to make "American Hollow" (8 p.m. Monday on HBO).

The daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy spent a year chronicling the lives of 68-year-old Iree Bowling, her husband and their 13 children. Only one of her offspring has ventured beyond Mudlick Hollow in eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest parts of Appalachia.


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Kennedy, whose wedding John F. Kennedy Jr. was flying to when his plane crashed this summer, refused to talk about her family tragedies in a phone interview with TV critics. But she was eager to discuss the making of her film and the Bowling family, all of whom receive some form of federal assistance.

Kennedy said changes in welfare policy three years ago influenced her decision to make "American Hollow."

"There had been a lot of attention on how [the 1996 welfare reform law] would affect people in cities and little attention to how it would effect rural communities despite the fact that 22 percent of those who live in poverty come from rural areas," Kennedy said.

"When I went down there at first I was asking a lot of questions about welfare and poverty, and when I stopped forcing those questions and allowed the family itself to tell its own story, then the film took off."

In doing so she documented a history of physical and mental abuse faced by the Bowling women, life in an agrarian society, happy family get-togethers and even young heartbreak.

It's the story about Iree's grandson, teen-aged Clint, that takes up a little too much time and threatens to turn the film into "Dawson's Hollow." Clint and his girlfriend break up, get back together and make wedding plans, and then Shirley dumps Clint again. The story ends in tears and violent outbursts by Clint, which caused Kennedy some concern.

"It is always very difficult to balance one's responsibility as a filmmaker to capture all of the moments and some sense of reality and also one's natural compassion as a human being. It's hard to just sit back and watch," she said. "I don't have any formula for how to deal in those situations other than responding as they come up."

Kennedy, 30, said she learned from Iree, whom she considers a documentarian in her own way.

"You walk into her house and she has dozens of photo albums that span the course of 100 years and she knows every single person and their relationship to everybody else in the pictures," Kennedy said. "She is very invested in holding onto the way of life in which she was brought up, but she also sees these sprawling malls an hour away from her house and she sees her children have satellite TV dishes and her one son feels he's addicted to Prozac. She sees the world encroaching upon her and she's invested in documenting what she had."

Kennedy said in "American Hollow" she tried to tell stories about people and at the same time shed light on an issue that hasn't received much attention in recent years. But the film isn't just the story of a poor family.

"It's also a celebration of tradition and community and family and the indomitable human spirit that gets us through the hard times in life," Kennedy said. "I also hope people recognize rural poverty is a real issue in the country. One in five families in Appalachia live in poverty. I hope in some way this will inspire more discussion about creative solutions to long-time problems."

'Beggars' returns

Showtime's comedy "Beggars and Choosers," set in the programming department of the low-rated fictional LGT network, returns with three consecutive weeks of new episodes beginning tomorrow at 10 p.m.

In "Star Whores" LGT Network vice president of development Lori Volpone (Charlotte Ross) gets thrown in jail over unpaid parking tickets, leaving her sneaky underling, Casey (Sherri Saum), to take a very important meeting with television producer Steven Bochco.

After the Dec. 11 original, "Beggars" will be in reruns until Jan. 15 when the remaining five new episodes begin rolling out on a weekly basis. The first season finale is scheduled to air Feb. 12. No word yet on whether the show will return for a second season.

'X-Files' kiss

You must remember this, a kiss ain't just a kiss when it's between Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) on "The X-Files."

Word leaked last month about the pending pucker-up between the heretofore platonic FBI pals.

Oh sure, they almost kissed in "The X-Files" movie last year, but coming close doesn't count. But I've got to say, the almost-kiss proved more tension-filled than the real thing.

But the kiss is just one part of Sunday's episode, titled "Millennium" (9 p.m. on Fox). Lance Henriksen guest stars as Frank Black, the character he played on the series "Millennium" until its cancellation in May.

As this episode opens Black has checked himself into a mental hospital as he tries to get his life back on track after a falling out with the Millennium Group.

Black's daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady, also a regular on the "Millennium" series) has a cameo, but his FBI colleague, Emma Hollis (Klea Scott), is nowhere to be found.

As a "Millennium" wrap-up this hour is rushed and unfulfilling. As an "X-Files" episode, it plays like a live-action version of the violent arcade game "House of the Dead." In trying to serve two constituencies, this too-little, too-late cross-over fails to do right by fans of either series.


When: 8 p.m. Monday on HBO.

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