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Inside Appalachia tells the stories of our people, and how they live today. Hosts Caitlin Tan and Mason Adams lead us on an audio tour of our rich history, our food, our music and our culture.

New Film Looks At 'Return of the Mothman'

Return of The Mothman
Herbert Gardner
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"Return of the Mothman" adds to the story of West Virginia's favorite monster

Since his first sighting in November of 1966, West Virginia’s Mothman has become a pop culture figure recognized around the world and appearing in films, books and video games. Now the state’s best-known cryptid is back in a new movie, the locally produced “Return of the Mothman.”

Bill Lynch spoke with film director Herb Gardner about why people are still interested in the Mothman.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Lynch: The Mothman has been kind of like the local monster. I’d never heard of it until about college, actually. What is the enduring affection for the Mothman? Why do we still love the Mothman?

Gardner: I think, probably rest on Jungian thought on that one. Carl Jung would probably call him a universal archetype, that he kind of wellsprings from, whether he's real or not.

Certainly, it's something that our universal unconscious can relate to and I really think it's that simple.

There's so many of them [monsters] besides the Mothman. There's the Flatwoods Monster, and then there's Sasquatch, and the list goes on and on and on.

Lynch: West Virginia really likes its monsters. You were mentioning Sasquatch and the Flatwoods Monster. There's over 20. They keep developing them. Why do we like monsters?

Gardner: I think with any culture, and especially West Virginia/Appalachian culture, there’s a rich history of folklore and storytelling. I think they just naturally arise. And again, going back to Carl Jung, it's like, can we project our shadow self into the real world? And that's a reflection of us, really.

Lynch: With the production of the film, did it go okay. Did you have any trouble?

Gardner: It took two years to make and we would have released it probably this last year, If COVID hadn't just brought us to a grinding halt there for a while.

We had actually shot our first scenes when – and of course, we were following all the strict protocols– masks and nitrile gloves and taking people's temperatures every hour.

We'd filmed a couple of scenes in-studio, and then we got a call from one of the primary actors. They say, hey, I just found out that, prior to filming, I was exposed to someone who has COVID.

And they were getting tested.

So, we're just holding our breath for 48 hours. It came back negative, but we didn't even have to discuss it. The risk was just too high for us. We didn't want to put anybody at risk. So, we just put production on a back burner and concentrated on what we could, which was working on the Mothman costume, securing locations down the road and things that we could do, literally, from our offices.

Lynch: Herb, How did you get into filmmaking in the first place?

Gardner: My background from the late 80s and early 90s, I did educational films and commercials. I really didn't find it rewarding. And I was like, if this is what's available, I'm just not gonna do it.

So, I pursued a career as a detective and then as a mental health counselor. And a few years ago, a very good friend of mine, actually, my filmmaking partner Calvin Grimm, enlisted me as an actor for our first film, “River of Hope.”

And… that was the type of film-making that I wanted to do.

So, I went from being an actor in that, to first assistant director to helping co-write the screenplay, and I got hooked and haven’t looked back since.

As soon as that project was over, we were looking to do another film. And we wanted to do a Mothman story, and actually had three separate ideas for potential scripts. And then Calvin discovered Michael Knost’s novel, “Return of the Mothman.”

He shot it over to me and I read it. We both fell in love with the story and we decided that's the avenue we were going to take.

We contacted Michael. He’d been approached by some larger networks – Sci Fi Channel and FX. He turned them down. He wanted the story to be told by West Virginians. So after a few meetings with Michael, we shook hands, and started working on the project.

Lynch: I imagine the difference between “River of Hope,” which is more of a historical drama, to your Mothman film, there'd be some differences like in costuming, special effects. What kind of challenges?

Gardner: The first film, which was set between 1850 and 1891, of course, costuming was a huge concern.

And then also we got horses. We had to hire horse wranglers, horse trainers to teach the actors how to ride,

In this film, because it is contemporary, costuming wasn't an issue, but there's special effects and we didn't go the CGI route. The Mothman is a live actor. So, the costuming there was a huge challenge, instead of having to come up with period correct costumes for 50 people-plus.

It's giving this believable costume for one actor –but the challenge was real and it was great.

Lynch: The film is called “Return the Mothman.” Herb, thank-you.

Gardner: Thank you so much.

Inside Appalachia Producer, blynch@wvpublic.org, @LostHwys

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