‘Impossible Town’ screens in Charleston, ahead of weekend screenings in Fayetteville and Beckley

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “You never know how it’s going to end, and you never know when it’s going to end,” Sound Producer Stephen Schmidt told the audience at the Culture Center Theatre after Saturday’s Charleston premiere of the documentary film “Impossible Town.” “You know eventually you’re going to have some conclusion to the story. But working on things like this, getting to come back to West Virginia, getting to see people – that’s better than any day at the office.”

Schmidt, along with Co-directors Meg Griffiths and Scott Faris, took part in a Q&A session at the conclusion of the film’s screening. “Impossible Town” tells the story of Minden, a rural West Virginia town plagued by cancer-causing chemicals, and the 40-year crusade of residents in search of justice. 

“Impossible Town” Co-directs Meg Griffiths and Scott Faris, join Sound Producer Stephen Schmidt for a Q&A with the audience during the film’s screening at Charleston’s Culture Center Theatre on Oct. 6. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Over the last four decades, Minden has been the focus of significant media attention – both locally, as well as at the national level. Because of that attention, Faris explained, the biggest challenge with making the film was finding a fresh way to tell Minden’s story. 

“I think we were privileged to see a lot of emerging information that is fairly new to the picture,” Faris said. “The complication arises when you form really, really strong relationships with your subjects over the three or four year period (while making the film).”

Faris referenced Dr. Ayne Amjad, whom ‘Impossible Town” follows from the beginnings of her involvement with the plight of Minden, through her time as West Virginia’s State Health Officer. Throughout its 93 minute runtime, the film examines Amjad’s efforts to secure a path to relocation for the residents of Minden, while also delving into several difficult moments of Amjad’s personal life.

“She (Amjad) has watched the film with her mother and fortunately likes it, even though there are some really uncomfortable moments for her,” Faris noted. “We showed things that we thought were important to the story that we knew were very personal to her. That’s difficult because you care about these people who you spend so much time with.”

“Ultimately you feel torn between how do I tell the very best story that I can, while also protecting these people who I’ve spent so much time with and consider to be my friends,” Faris added.

For Griffiths, meeting Amjad was the first step of what would become a five-year labor of love.

“We called Ayne (Amjad) in 2018,” Griffiths said. “We were immediately fascinated. We filmed for four years, and we captured 400 hours of footage. We took 18 trips to West Virginia during that time, and we edited over the course of a year.”

During its multi-year production, “Impossible Town,” which Griffiths and Faris originally envisioned as a short film, grew into the duo’s first feature-length offering. 

“Meg and I were convinced that we were making a rip-roaring, inspirational movie about a woman who was going to move a whole town,” Faris said. “It was going to be the feel-good film of the year, believe it or not.”

“What surprised us is just how complicated, and how nuanced the situation in Minden is,” Faris added. “Not just because of the levels of contamination, but also how complicated someone’s motives for wanting to move a town can actually be.”

The film will screen again Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Historic Fayette Theater in Fayetteville. Showtime is 7 p.m. On Sun, Oct. 8, “Impossible Town” will screen at the Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre in Beckley, with a start time of 5:30 p.m. 

This screening series is made possible with support from Anonymous is a Woman, in partnership with The New York Foundation for the Arts, The Real WV, and Universe Creative.

For more information about the film and upcoming screenings, visit impossibletown.com.

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