Stranger with a Camera

Director: Elizabeth Barret
Screenwriters: Fenton Johnson

Institute History


In 1967, in rural Kentucky, a Canadian documentarian, Hugh O’Connor, was shot and killed by Hobart Ison, a landowner, who said O’Connor was trespassing. More than thirty years later, local filmmaker Elizabeth Barret set out to re-explore those affected by the crime and provide a historical context for the unfortunate killing. The result is an exceptionally moving film about a people and place often misunderstood by the outside world.

In the late sixties, news crews discovered that stories about Appalachia made good copy. Images of children walking to school barefoot and men coming home from the coal mines covered in soot struck powerful emotions about poverty from Americans. For the first time, audiences could witness a never-before-seen slice of this country. Charles Karalt broadcast “Christmas in Appalachia” to millions, but no one asked those who lived there how they felt about it. Many thought they were being misrepresented and had no chance to tell their story.

When the incident happened, many defended Ison, the convicted killer. Barret elegantly explores the complexity of the issue through interviews with eyewitnesses, the film crew who accompanied O’Connor, and his daughter, as well as her own perspective. Although she grew up in a town very close to the incident, Barret is from a middle-class background, and her memories and experiences are markedly different. When she became a filmmaker connected with Appalshop, she had a strong desire to explore the murder. Because Barret is both an Appalachian and a filmmaker, she possesses a deep compassion and understanding for all those involved.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

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