“Impossible Town” is a new feature-length documentary that follows Dr. Ayne Amjad’s journey to confront a cancer crisis in the small southern town of Minden, West Virginia…and the film has an unexpected tie to Wheeling.
I had the chance to meet with “Impossible Town” co-directors Meg Griffiths and Scott Faris to learn more about this project, their Appalachian film tour, and an interesting Wheeling connection that led them to this project.
Finding Inspiration in the Friendly City
It started with an idea and a phone call, according to “”Impossible Town” co-director Meg Griffiths. She and Scott Faris were looking for a story to tell about Faris’ home state of West Virginia. For years the team had their eyes on the mountain state but didn’t have much luck on finding the right story to tell.
That was until the duo came to Wheeling in 2018 to lead a training on video storytelling for Weelunk writers. They were invited by Weelunk founders and long-time supporters Jason and Sarah Koegler. Griffiths explains “at the end of the training session I asked, ‘are there any local ideas or stories we can help tell?’” That’s when Weelunk contributor Jeremy Morris shared that he had gone to high school with a woman named Ayne Amjad and she was “trying to move a town or something.” This tip led Scott Faris to cold call Dr. Amjad to learn more about her story.
“I was really nervous to call her,” Faris recalls. “I had no idea what she was going to think about us or the project. At the time, we had no idea what this was going to turn into. Initially, our intention was to spend a couple of days with her and make a short documentary about the work she was doing. Ayne was so trusting and generous from the beginning. We jumped right in and didn’t look back for four and a half years.” Faris shared that had he and Griffiths not made the trip to Wheeling, then “Impossible Town” likely wouldn’t have happened.
Dr. Ayne Amjad is thrust to the helm of a decades-long struggle to aid a West Virginia town beset by cancer-causing chemicals (photo courtesy of Universe Creative).
Dr. Amjad follows her father's mission to help the residents of Minden (photo courtesy of Universe Creative).
Impossible Town also includes the perspectives of several Minden, WV residents (photo courtesy of Universe Creative).
"The environmental crisis is really the backdrop for a close examination of how trauma impacts people," said Scott Faris (photo courtesy of Universe Creative).
About “Impossible Town”
So, we know that Wheeling helped connect these filmmakers to a worthwhile West Virginia-based story, but how does this story resonate with those outside of the town of Minden? “This is a film about an environmental crisis, but the crisis is really the backdrop for a close examination of how trauma impacts people,” said Faris.
The documentary primarily focuses on Dr. Aye Amjad and her mission to help the people of Minden. Following in her father’s footsteps, she begins her own pursuit to bring justice to the people of Minden for the decades of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals that wreaked havoc on their small community. This journey includes forming a plan to relocate the town, accepting a high-profile role as WV’s state health officer, and the sacrifices inherent in the pursuit of justice.
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While Dr. Amjad and the people of Minden are front and center, their story speaks to struggles faced by countless communities near and far. “We know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of communities like Minden that are dealing with their own environmental crises. And the more time passes, the more limited these communities’ options for reconciliation become. That’s one thing that I hope people take to hear from watching the film,” said Faris.
Griffiths hopes that viewers take time to reflect on the roles they can play in their own communities – no matter how big or small they may be. “My takeaway from the film was asking myself ‘how can I support people like Dr. Amjad in my community who are going above and beyond to make change.?’ And ‘what is my responsibility to take action, even if it’s in a small way?’ I believe that call to action is an important theme that I hope resonates with the audience in the same way.”
Attend a Screening
If you’d like to watch “Impossible Town,” free screenings of the film are taking place across the region through October 8. The Appalachian Film Tour will stop in Wheeling on Thursday, Oct. 5 from 7 – 10 p.m. at Towngate Theatre.
Both Griffiths and Faris plan to attend the screening and will be available for a short Q&A session after the film. “We’re super excited to interact with the viewers, answer questions, and see how the story lands with people.”
You can learn more about “Impossible Town” and the Appalachian Film tour by visiting impossibletown.com.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.