Every season calls upon a pioneer. Sometimes the call is loud, intentional, and pointed, just as it was in 1865 when Walt Whitman waxed lyrical about the purpose and life of the 19th Century American pioneer. In his poem Pioneers! O Pioneers!, Whitman encouraged Americans to "debouch upon a newer mightier world" and settle the West. In the context of this United States history, a pioneer's efforts included devastating acts of environmental destruction, as well as displacement of and violence toward native people.

In an attempt to fulfill this call, we are observing three Appalachian pioneers living in West Virginia: Nellie Rose Gundersen Davis, James Morley, and Tim Hibbs, who are humbly answering their own calls. Their stories unfold in the midst of a pandemic and personal heartache, but we discover that their courage is boundless and that each is incensed with deep, authentic love for their neighbor. 
Weaving narration with candid moments from each of our subjects, archival pioneer footage, poetic vignettes, and dream-like animation, O Pioneer asks viewers to courageously champion the pioneer within while consciously rejecting the follies of our past.

  • Co- Directors: Jonathan Lacocque & Clara Lehmann

  • Writer: Clara Lehmann

  • Stars: Nellie Rose Gundersen Davis, James Morley, Kaia Kater and Tim Hibbs

  •  Genre: Documentary

WHAT THIS DOCUMENTARY DOES WELL: There is this honest and noble pursuit that is carefully filmed here with the kind of observational style that wills so much incredible emotion and truth, coupled with an edit that I think weaves three parallel stories down 3 different paths. Then sprinkle some Walt Whitman and let Kaia Kater fill in the moments we need a breath and just need to be and you have this beautiful work of art. What Jonathan and Clara do so well isn't new in the documentary space but they do with a kind white glove approach that I think has this unique freedom while also invoking an intimacy that is so organic and so surprising oftentimes that you almost have to go back and see how did that just happen? 

I think it helps that each artist they profile here has such a different approach to their art, to their pursuits, and yet there is this subtle commonality that breathes into each scene as we switch from artist to artist. This is one of the best edited pieces I saw at Cinequest. It's that kind of care that almost puts the filmmakers on screen without them ever actually being on screen. The scenery and the set-ups kind of illustrate (sometimes literally in this unique animation) not just the beauty of artistry and West Virginia but the vastness of this area that plays so much bigger than it is and yet seems at times like the most intimate place in the world. It's really a juxtaposition of composition that adds an element of surrealism to the real life layers here. The 3rd act really pays it off with this approach in a special event art gathering that I think is one of the coolest moments in the film, and obviously my favorite. This film also has one of the best openings of any film I have ever seen. 

It's wild that when I met Clara and Jonathan how much I felt like I already knew them just from watching them essentially watch others to make a documentary. Obviously, they do it with an artistic bend and talent that is amazing and top notch but still to feel like they are there while again never being on screen, never even vocalizing on screen, that's something that will resonate with so many of us. It certainly will stay with this viewer for a long, long time to come. 

WHY CHAMPION THIS MOVIE: This movie gives you all the reasons in the world to hope for something, to pursue a passion, to live in the moment, and to love all that you can. I think that is an impressive message that I don't know of anyone who wouldn't want to feel or hear that.