Shelbyville to the Valley: Local lessons from a Tennessee town? |

Shelbyville to the Valley: Local lessons from a Tennessee town?

Photo courtesy of Greg PoschmanStudents in a English as a Second Language class recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a scene in the documentary "Welcome to Shelbyville."

ASPEN – Aspen filmmaker Greg Poschman hopes the latest project he worked on can provide a spark for introspection in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Poschman got behind the camera as director of photography in “Welcome to Shelbyville.” The documentary takes a one-year look at how a small Tennessee town’s black and white populations react to an influx of Latinos and Somali Muslims. The newcomers compete for low-paying jobs and present challenges to the Bible-belt town’s established ways of life.

The film was directed and produced by Kim Snyder, whom Poschman has worked with on “four of five” previous projects. It will be aired as part of PBS’s acclaimed Independent Lens series. The documentary will be shown at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Rocky Mountain PBS, channel 6 for Aspen cable subscribers.

The residents of Shelbyville, located near the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, have trouble adjusting to the rapidly changing demographics of their town. The struggles intensified over the course of a year as the recession’s sting became more intense, Poschman said. He visited the town six or seven times, starting with the 2010 election of President Obama and saw hopes for the future get deflated.

Poschman didn’t want to get into details about the findings over the course of that year. When pressed on whether Shelbyville was conquering its fears and integrating, Poschman responded, “Of course it’s not, but there’s room for hope.”

He and Snyder met “all types” of people in the town and portrayed their stories. At the end of the day, he said he believes the film makes you feel good about America, even if the integration and cohesion aren’t quite there.

The focus is on Shelbyville but the issues span across America. “The story will resonate in our valley and in American towns throughout the country,” Poschman said.

Watching the experiences of Shelbyville unfold could be a way for the white and Latino populations of the Roaring Fork Valley to examine issues in their own backyard, said Poschman, an Aspen native.

“Are they really coherent, integrated communities?” he asked. “This would be one way to open the dialogue locally.”

Poschman is in the process of scheduling screenings of the documentary this summer, though the dates haven’t been set. He wants to pair a screening in Aspen with a panel discussion. He also wants to organize screenings in Carbondale and Basalt, where there is more of an issue with white populations welcoming Latinos and Latinos assimilating into the communities.

Poschman said the documentary has struck a cord with social activists. An organization called Welcoming American, which promotes respect and cooperation among U.S. native and foreign-born Americans, is sponsoring screenings of the film. Poschman said it was also screened this week by the U.S. State Department.

“As a documentary maker, I’m proud of it,” he said.

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