Rocktown Doc Premieres at CST

Jeremy Aldrich -- February 6th, 2009

Last night Leslie Edwards’ documentary “Rocktown: From the Small Farm to the Big Box” debuted to a packed house at Court Square Theater.  The film touched on local hotbuton issues including development, JMU expansion, immigration, police brutality, downtown revitalizaton, and the Blacks Run watershed.  Edwards used clips from dozens of interviews with local figures in the film.

It’s hard to write much more about it without editorializing, so let the discussion begin!

73 Responses to “Rocktown Doc Premieres at CST”

  1. I was not able to get in. Neither could dozens more. Kai, Lowell, Bubby, Bill Kyger, and several others ended up at Cally’s for the duration of the film.

    I was told there was no discussion of the film afterward, which I thought was odd, considering the subject matter.

  2. Sarah says:

    We weren’t able to get in either – does anyone know if Court Square will show it again?

  3. Thanh says:

    I was unable to go watch the movie yesterday due to a schedule conflict, but for what its worth I wrote this comment on the Rocktown Documentary’s blog/website in response to the 8:41 minute trailer:

    “I haven’t seen the film yet, but want to. I do want to say that the facts you posted in your trailer about Blacks Run are incorrect. I’m not a fish/wildlife biologist, but I do work with water quality issues in Harrisonburg. Blacks Run is not “dead” and there are definitely more than “leeches and crayfish” living in Blacks Run.

    In June 2008, a group of biologists from the VA Department of Game and Fisheries noted that “At Purcell Park the group found a staggering 226 fish, species including: Bluehead chub (18), blacknose dace (49), fathead minnow (11), redbreast sunfish (14), common shiner (44), green sunfish (2), white sucker (16), bluntnose minnow (66) and banded killfish (6).” Please read this for more info:

    I’m not denying that there are problems and that there is more work to be done (because there is!), but by saying that Blacks Run is a “dead stream” (which it is not) I feel that it makes too many people not care, i.e. they think “why bother?, its too late.”

    There are are lot of people in the community working together to make the stream healthier, and have seen very good support and results. See this recent story as an example:

    Also, I’m not 100% sure about this, but I don’t recall anyone reporting any leeches in the stream.

    If you want to learn more about Blacks Run visit or contact the Stream Health Coordinator Brad Fink at Thanks.”

  4. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Well, let me give you a brief review.

    From a technical standpoint, the film gets a D. Poor video and audio quality, cutting corners by taking lots of shots from moving vehicles and interviewing family members without saying that’s who they were, a mishmash of topics and some scenes that were just confusing (i.e. the woman getting arrested at Heritage Oaks, the story about CopWatch, and the L&S Diner worker talking about the stripper), sloppy editing that was designed to juxtapose people even if they weren’t actually talking about the same topic…

    The best parts of the film were when they let people speak for themselves at some length about things they had experienced rather than simply giving their opinions: the farmer talking about what he would do if the loop road is built through his farm, Kenny Kyger telling his story, and the conservationist explaining who’s to blame for Blacks Run pollution (the Harrisonburg community has no one to blame but itself).

    Rodney Eagle, Andy Perrine, and Bill Neff were portrayed as fools at best and devious schemers at worst.

    There was no cohesive message other than “development is bad and JMU is a cancer but it’s also great and wouldn’t it be great if it could be just like the 50’s again in Harrisonburg.” It reminded me of a video version of an undergraduate term paper: heavily researched but all over the map with no clear thesis. For the last third of the film I was just waiting for it to end. It will need to be heavily edited to be understood by audiences outside of this area who don’t already know about the topics it covers.

  5. Josh says:

    I’m still trying to figure out what the film was about. It was kind of like a Michael Moore documentary where only one side is presented–and if the other side is presented, remarks are twisted and taken out of context–but unlike Michael Moore’s documentaries, there was no real message, or suggestion, or conclusion.

    It was a series of interviews, sometimes interesting, sometimes not, where folks occasionally gave good insight into what this area used to be like, or could be like, but more often than not, it was a collection of rants painting enterprising developers as being selfish evil-doers, JMU as the devil and in one unfortunate incident, painting JMU students as being stupid.

    I appreciate Leslie Edwards attempting to make sense of this crazy whirlwind of change we’ve experienced in Harrisonburg (at least I think that’s what she was trying to do). But it’s such a shame she didn’t present multiple perspectives. We live in one of the most culturally fascinating and diverse regions in the state. Things are changing and the community is becoming more engaged. We’re not all sitting back bitter wishing for 1940 all over again. We’re looking for the best possible future, that’s all.

    She should have introduced the film, thanked everyone for coming out and hosted a community discussion so that others could share alternative points-of-view.

    P.S. Glick and Philips’ opening set was absolutely hilarious. That was the best part of the night.

  6. Mike S says:

    I showed up but was unable to get in. Sign on the door said “Theatre at Capacity” Any idea when/if they are showing it again? Sounds like it wasn’t even worth it anyways but hey…it was free!

  7. Renee says:

    After Jeremy & Josh’s thorough reviews, I’m glad I didn’t go. I wouldn’t mind seeing an anti-JMU, anti-growth perspective if it was presented clearly and both sides were portrayed, but it sounds like it was a one-sided mish-mash of interviews.

  8. Tina says:

    First of all, I apologize for anyone who came to the event and wasn’t able to get in – our seating capacity was exceeded “slightly” so for safety and comfort, we had to close the doors. It’s never a good thing to have to tell people they can’t get in, but it was great to see that many people interested in the film.

    There was a discussion planned, but the event ran a little longer than planned, and due to the chaos of such a large crowd, the announcement about the discussion didn’t happen. Sorry about that – I’m sure people had plenty to discuss on the car ride/walk home!

    At this point, we’re not sure about another showing. There is a possibility that we may be able to host it again, and I know there are other communities who are interested. If we’re able to schedule another viewing, we’ll let folks know.

    The DVDs will be ready soon, and will be available through the website

  9. Andy Perrine says:

    I feel the need to comment here — not out of personal defense over my unfair portrayal in the film (although I’d be perfectly justified in doing so) — but on the lost opportunity to create a constructive dialogue about local issues in growth and the sheer dishonesty with which this film was passed off as a “documentary.”

    First of all, I’ve never seen the Court Square Theater so packed. It was wonderful. But the capacity room was clobbered with a one-sided diatribe rather than a complete picture of the issues. This does nothing to elevate the discussion; people take sides and the opportunity for discussion is gone. What a waste.

    As for dishonesty, it is clear by segment where Kenny Kyger and I are interviewed about the university acquiring the Kyger Funeral Home property that Ms. Edwards furnished Mr. Kyger with my interview remarks. He was able to answer every point I made in my interview, and then with editing, refute each of my arguments on screen. This is not documentary film making. When the director influences what is said by interview subject, he or she is not documenting. They are creating propaganda. I agreed to Ms. Edwards to be interviewed for a documentary and that’s not what was produced. Absolutely unethical.

    Lastly, on a personal note, I am a founding board member of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and am currently board president. I was part of the effort to get downtown designated as an historical district — a key positive element featured in the film. I also actively participate in numerous other civic activities and model for my children the role of an enlightened and engaged citizen. I brought my children to the film last night and was forced to explain to them why the audience was hissing at my image on screen. “But we thought you were good, Daddy. We thought all the work you do for the city was good.”

    Thanks Ms. Edwards.

  10. David Miller says:


    The work that you do for your community is admirable. If someone manipulated interviews to show otherwise, f em.

  11. Carole says:

    I feel that the film is a major disappointment on many levels, the most important of which is its failure to genuinely address the problems facing Harrisonburg/Rockingham County. I went to the screening in the hope that the filmmaker’s perspective might shed some light on the changes our area is seeing and that many of us have been struggling with for years. I left feeling hammered by a heavy-handed approach that did not engage the positive actions taken by many citizens who live here and really care about our town. At first I thought that a good editor would have helped focus this piece — it was, after all, about six different movies and was way too long — but I now believe the real flaw lies with the filmmaker, who didn’t really make a documentary at all. Instead, we were hit with editorializing at every turn to emphasize what often seemed like sour grapes on her part. Nowhere was there an appreciation for what it has taken to get Downtown going again or how farmland is being preserved in parts of the Valley. Let’s all throw up our hands and moan. And, by the way, where on earth did the idea come from to use Little Washington as a model for small-town survival?! Sweet Jesus — if you want to see how local people have been priced out of the market, head on over to Rappahannock County.

    Glick and Phillips, in their inimitable way, made the evening worthwhile.

  12. Andy Perrine says:

    Thanks David. Most righteous sentiment.

  13. Lowell says:


    What Dave said…

  14. Lowell says:

    Also Andy, I know some knock down barracuda type attorneys if you have need…

  15. The Valley Progressive says:

    I know that this goes without saying but, this discussion needs to occur. The public angst is building as change occurs more quickly then they can cope with… this town is dramatically different from just 5-10 years ago and will continue to evolve. Whether you agree or disagree with the film, the interest in the topic is self-evident. I have always applauded Andy et. al. for their efforts downtown but I must admit that the area “behind the mall” has become a short-sighted traffic nightmare. The fact that there is no central parking, common area park, or pedestrian friendly design is ridiculious in this day and age. If Bill Neff was responsible for this niave design that will haunt us for decades, then perhaps the film was accurate.

  16. Lowell says:

    “But we thought you were good, Daddy. We thought all the work you do for the city was good.”

    That one will stick with me for some time to come Andy, and I can only imagine how this must have hit you. I’m so sorry.

    And if Bill Neff and Rodney Eagle were also portrayed in such a dishonest and negative manner, I’m sorry for these two good men as well.

    VP is absolutely right in that this conversation about our future direction and the change we must face together must occur.

    But, and this is one biiiiiiig but, if we are to move forward in a pragmatic and progressive and productive and well planned manner, we must do so by recognizing first of all that constructive direction is not achieved by vilifying good people.

  17. Hoping to clarify a couple of points here:

    1) There was a community discussion planned for after the film. The MC for the night, John Eckman, got caught outside the theater while staff were taking the sound equipment off the stage. He thought he had time, but didn’t make it in before the stage lights went down to make his announcement that I would come down after the film and several others would come up and facilitate a loose community discussion. I was just as surprised as anyone that it didn’t happen, and it wasn’t intentional.

    2) Completely agree with many of the comments on the technical aspects–we were working within some time and money constraints, this is our first feature length project and we regret that it couldn’t have been more slickly produced. Some of those items will be addressed before the final DVD is cut.

    3) I find it very interesting that many involved in this discussion didn’t even see the film, and yet feel totally at ease commenting aggressively on it. I find it even more interesting that some are talking about suing me just because you don’t agree with my point of view. Is a lawsuit the way we express our disagreement with other people? All of my facts and figures were checked and doubled checked against multiple sources and all of my interviews were above board and freely consented to. In point of fact, I interviewed Kenny Kyger before I interviewed Andy Perrine, so it would be nice not to be accused of a grand conspiracy where none exists. None of my interviews were transcribed until months after all the shooting was complete. I did ask many of the participants the same questions, including Mr. Kyger and Mr. Perrine, and that is very common in documentary filmmaking, and in other interview protocols.

    4) I initially asked for an interview with Lynwood Rose, and was provided with an interview with Mr. Perrine. I don’t dispute that Mr. Perrine likely is a very fine human being, but he has chosen a public relations position representing JMU, and that means his face is the face we see publicly representing decisions made by JMU. For example, I’m sure that Dana Perino is also a very fine human being, but she also worked as the spokesperson for the Bush administration–does that mean we can’t ask her to account for the actions of the administration, simply because she has a family and does good work in the community?

    There was absolutely nothing unethical in my asking about the situation involving Mr. Kyger and his property. And there is nothing wrong with asking JMU to account for it’s actions. And again there is nothing wrong with juxtaposing the various responses I received to my questions. I’m sorry that Mr. Perrine felt that he was abused, but I do believe that anyone who signs on to be the public relations rep for a major institution has by definition exposed themselves to the uncomfortable possibility of answering for unpopular actions on the part of said institution.

    5) As for Blacks Run and it’s debatable health, I received my information from staff at the Blacks Run Greenway office, which is, at least in part, funded by the city, and I was working off of that information as somewhat authoritative. I don’t know if the fish findings cited above are a new discovery or not, but I doubt that those promoting the greenway would have been providing inaccurate information at the time that I interviewed them, so I assume this was unknown to them at the time.

    6) I have heard from many locals who did actually see the film who have thanked me for making it, overlooked the technical issues, and said it voiced for them the private conversations they have at home, with friends and neighbors, but haven’t been able to project effectively into the public debate. I think it would be sad for those commenting here to miss this truth–that there are many who are angry and frustrated with the trajectory of development in Harrisonburg, and felt that what I had to say dovetailed with their experience. I also think it’s hard to imagine 250 people sitting and 20 people standing through an hour and a half of “one-sided diatribe”, and clapping at the end–most people would have walked out had they felt that way, and that’s not what happened. It was far from perfect but it also has not been accurately described here.

    There is a mystification that happens in places like Harrisonburg, where people like to complain about development as if it is a faceless natural force that no one has any control over, almost like a tornado or something. As I worked on the film, I realized that I couldn’t shy away from “naming names,” even if it was uncomfortable, in terms of identifying the people and institutions I believe are responsible for the haphazard growth that has taken place. I just feel strongly that as long as we continue to characterize people and their deliberate actions as inevitable and nameless forces, we are powerless to take action.

    7) I tried to show the good things that are happening, as well as to identify the problem. I showed much of today’s downtown and interview many workers and business owners there, and there were farmers in the film talking about those sourcing food locally. I also asked local groups doing good work to table at the event, to promote getting more people involved, and people we had literature/folks from Valley Conservation Council, the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market and the Virginia Organizing Project.

    8) The film is available for screening to anyone who wants to screen it, through the site
    The film wasn’t made to make a profit, but as a way to help me figure out what has happened to my hometown, a place I love very much. I’m sorry that people were turned away after coming out to see it, but I guess that’s the down side of making it free without tickets and as accessible as I could.

    Hope this helps to explain my point of view, and apologies for the length.

    Leslie Edwards

  18. Renee says:

    Leslie, thanks for adding your comments in response to the comments here.

    As a Harrisonburg resident, not having seen the film yet but seeing how others I trust have reacted to it, I must admit I’m really worried that the film is being screened in other towns already (see link above). I hope it is made clear that it has not been determined what percentage of people in Harrisonburg agree with the opinions portrayed in the film.

  19. Leslie says:


    With all due respect, when someone makes a film or writes a book or makes an album, they don’t have to seek majority agreement on the end result before others can see it. There’s no endorsement process–it is what it is, and it will either sink or swim on it’s own merits.


  20. Thanh says:

    Thanks Leslie for your response above. I think/hope it is appreciated by others who saw your film and who are discussing it here.

    I wont speak to any of the other topics you noted in your post until I’ve seen your documentary, but I do wish to say/ask the following regarding Blacks Run (based on the trailer and your response above):

    – There is no “Blacks Run Greenway office” that I am aware of other than the non-profit group Friends of Blacks Run Greenway, who’s current president is Mr. John Reeves. Is that the group you are referring to?

    – The Friends of Blacks Run Greenway (group) *do not* receive any funding from the City.

    – The City does employ a Stream Health Coordinator position, which is partially funded by a Zane Showker Endowment managed by The Community Foundation. This individual does work in cooperation with the Friends of Blacks Run Greenway and other community groups on many projects (like stream bank restorations, riparian buffers, education, etc) and the annual Blacks Run/ Downtown Clean Up Day.

    – “Blacks Run” is the name of the stream running through the City which drains about 2/3rds of the City. The “Blacks Run Greenway” concept, which is a concept for a linear park around Blacks Run (stream) with a trail/multiuse path running adjacent to it, was a plan developed by the Friends of Blacks Run Greenway in partnership with City, its staff, and other citizens. The Blacks Run Greenway “plan/concept” is referenced and supported in the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

    – If you could let me know who you spoke with in addition to Mr. Todd Hedinger regarding the health of Blacks Run, I’d appreciate it so I can help correct any misunderstandings, misinformation, etc. I can be contacted at thanhd [at] harrisonburgva [dot] gov.

    Thanks so much for your help.

  21. Emmy says:

    Sounds like I’ll be much better off if I never see this.

  22. Renee says:

    Leslie, I’m not saying you shouldn’t show it in other cities, I just don’t want other people to get the impression that the movie reflects the opinions of the residents here unless it does.

    If you ever set up a message board or something similar for people to discuss the topic and the movie, let us know here so locals that have seen it can weigh in! Thanks.

  23. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Leslie, thanks for dropping by to comment. From your perspective, what would you like to see happen in Harrisonburg and what would people have to do for it to happen?

  24. The Valley Progressive says:

    Intelligent people watch, and listen, to differing opinions to get a better perspective of the big picture. Its what makes us different from the ditto limbaugh heads who are not capable of independent thinking. Perhaps you, of all people, should watch the documentary.

  25. Andy Perrine says:

    Ms. Edwards, I am perfectly comfortable handling difficult issues in public relations — and to be honest, your film is not the most difficult I’ve dealt with — not even close. It’s just that I usually expect to be treated fairly and honestly by those with whom I agree to speak — especially those declaring that they are making a documentary. You very obviously had an opinion to present and you did so with your film. That form of film is not a documentary and not what I agreed to participate in. That was indeed unethical.

    In my opinion, the main problem with your film is revealed by the Rocktown Weekly article reporting on your film’s upcoming premier;

    “Edwards anticipates that her film may create some controversy, especially through some of its criticisms of JMU and big development in Harrisonburg. Still, she’s confident that the breadth of her interviews — she filmed more than 80 hours of conversation with more than 50 local people — have allowed her to accurately capture the feelings of everyday people in town.”

    Inteviews with 50 people does not even come close to a statistically representative sample of a metropolitan area populated by 120,000 people. So, describing your work as an “accurate” portrayal of prevailing public opinion is either naive or dishonest.

    To think that you do know what this community believes based on 50 interviews is absolute hubris. And maybe it’s why your film has been received negatively by many.

  26. Emmy says:

    VP, I’ve dealt with this subject on another blog with you. I won’t be doing it again here.

    I know exactly what listening to opposing viewpoints can do for a person. I do it quite often.

  27. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    You know in Spider-Man 3, where that mysterious substance turns the Spider-Man suit black and makes Peter Parker really mean?

    For some reason, I’m thinking of that right now.

  28. seth says:

    you know what i’m thinking of? the 2003 academy award for best documentary. when we elevate that kind of the thing as the best of the best, i think we can probably expect to see a number of young film makers who have difficulty making documentaries like they used to (that is, objectively).

  29. JGFitzgerald says:

    That ooze had a name, Gx. Members of the VLWC are supposed to show more sensitivity. But seriously … did I miss a comment here? More importantly, did SM3 win the documentary Oscar and I missed that? Cause that would be really cool. The winning, I mean. Not the miss.

  30. I don’t think we should kid ourselves that any documentary is ever objective, or for that matter, that anything humans produce is objective. Everything comes from a perspective, the question is how forthright you are about what your perspective is. Does anyone really believe that a classic National Geographic documentary about “primitive peoples,” narrated by a white British man is without a perspective? Every choice, every camera angle, every clip included and excluded, and a thousand other things lead the audience to draw conclusions, but with a false sense that there is no authorial hand involved. Just like the nightly news. My choice was to be far more ethical–to be clear about my position in relation to the material upfront. This is just a different kind of documentary–one that is gaining more and more traction because it is more honest, not less honest. The idea that a documentary is the product of someone just setting up a camera and letting tape roll is a fantasy–it doesn’t exist. And even setting the camera up and pointing it in one direction versus another is a choice, a perspective at play.

    In answer to Jeremy’s question above, I will post a list of ideas for the future (that I compiled from my interviews) in the coming days on my blog (

  31. seth says:

    a list of films that have won in the documentary category:

    leslie, i see (and appreciate) you’re point about the elusive nature of objectivity (and i haven’t had the opportunity to catch your film yet, although i am looking forward to seeing it). however, i still think that the fundamental form of the documentary is changing. in my mind, when moore stepped out from beind the camera, he was no longer a documentary film maker.

    i feel like (and perhaps i’m wrong) documentaries used to try to simply depict reality, or that if they were arguing/making a point, they would do so in such a way as not to beat the audience over the head with what is obviously the film maker’s perspective. one day in september is a really good example of this. the facts are that the germans were totally incompetent in their handling of the olympic hostage situation and ended up cutting a shady deal to release the palestinians they were able to take into custody, but at the end of the film, the audience is left to come to terms with all of this on their own, not instructed to do so by the film maker.

    i think films like bowling for columbine and an inconvenient truth feel the need to explicitly tell people what to think. in my mind, a documentary should be more in the business of telling people what questions to ask.

  32. Andy Perrine says:

    Ms. Edwards, I guess you don’t have to respond to my comments about your belief that 50 interviews represents and “accurate” portrayal of 120,000 citizens. But I do have two follow up questions for you about your cynical point of view on objectivity and truth.

    You videotaped me in 2006 — nearly three years ago — stating that at the time the university had no plans to grow enrollment. You used that footage at the end of your film along with computer graphics displaying the difference between our enrollment in 2006 and our current enrollment. Did you bother to investigate the composition of our enrollment growth? Do you know whether that growth includes more local adults and non-traditional students? More distance learning students? Did you inquire during the intervening time between my 2006 interview and the recent final edit whether the university had changed its position on growth? No. You created a sucker-punch moment for your film, which received a big laugh from the audience. How is that type of film making “more honest” than my “fantasy” of objective documentary film making?

    I understand your statements about the challenge of achieving objectivity. I agree, it is very hard. But trying helps. If Kenny Kyger’s property was not for sale, as you allowed him to say in your film, how come he put a price tag on it? Did you think to ask him that follow up question? That line of questioning might have revealed an entirely new side to this story that has not been explored. But then it wouldn’t have supported your point of view. That’s “more truthful?”

    Finally, I labor under no “fantasy” as your describe the ideal of objectivity. We’re all imperfect, I know. But if public dialogue, art, film — any expression at all — is going add to our experience or provide any constructive framework for increasing our understanding of a subject, it’s got to at least make an effort to explore all sides of the subject.

  33. David Miller says:

    This is why nowadays I only take media questions via email. Rarely then.

  34. Bob Adamek says:

    I was at the film and thought there was one really glaring omission from the general points of view. I walked away with the impression, beaten into me, that JMU = bad, in all ways, in all cases. Something JMU was not given credit for, was the enormous amount of talent that it brought here, and the impact that talent has had on our community. In countless cases that I have observed since my arrival in 1987, the folks that consistently show up to defend this area’s history, old buildings and parks are folks that came to JMU, fell in love with the area and decided to stay. Defending these things from people, locals living here their whole lives, that are too quick to sell to the highest bidder, regardless of the impact that sale will have on the esthetics, environment or history of the place we, as “Come here’s”, decided to make our home. Whether it was the jail, having to watch the destruction of the Mystic Den, Virginia Ham Cafe, Calhoun’s, Cool Breeze Cycle Shop, Town and Campus Records, etc. Or the destruction of the park , complete with gazebo that used to feature free music concerts in favor of a bank next to the Joshua Whilton House. Time and time again, I saw a community of ex-JMU students, now residents trying to save these places from extinction. I certainly don’t mean to say that all long time residents don’t care for the things that more recent residents value, but neither should the film have misrepresented the positive impact that JMU has had on this community. Andy Perrine is one of the ex-JMU students that made his home here and is a terrific example of community work and volunteerism. My two cents.

  35. Lee says:

    Well I think one thing is 100% clear here
    For all of you to be defending one another with such “hubris”
    (excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance), she must have been on the right track at the very least.
    Also I do have 1 put down on the film, it didnt mention that those in “Power” in 2006 had been pretty much voted out in 2008 / while this film was still in the cutting room………food for thought?

  36. Emmy says:

    See Lee, I feel the opposite. I haven’t seen it, but the fact that she has to defend it in the manner demonstrated here leads me to believe that perhaps there were a number of things wrong.

    I agree with Mr. Adamek above. I’ve lived in Harrisonburg my whole life and while JMU has its issues, the town is better off because of it. JMU does not equal bad in my book, not by a mile.

  37. David Miller says:

    Lee, allow me to stoke this fire. What do you mean by arrogant? Whom would you be calling arrogant (similar in form to name calling?)? I think that when we walk into any argument we do so with a predisposition to view a situation one way or another, as discussed prior. Perhaps if we better understood why you disagree with the opinions you reference (it would help to know which ones they are) then we could in turn help you understand our perspectives better. It’s win win

  38. Renee says:

    So those of you that are so anti-JMU, what do you think of someone like me – I came here from northern VA to attend JMU, stayed to start a business here, have an office downtown, and work with a lot of companies and people locally.

    Didn’t all of the money I spent on supplies, food, gas, housing, entertainment, etc. while a student at JMU and since graduation help support this community?

    Doesn’t the fact that I (and others I know) liked this area enough to stay instead of going “home” after graduation mean this community had something to offer me, and I it?

    Doesn’t the fact that local non-profits and other organizations benefit from the low-cost high-quality IT work that my new company provides mean I’m contributing to the community above and beyond the benefits of just living/paying taxes/buying things here?

    Beyond my business involvement, I’ve bought produce at the Farmer’s Market downtown (and gifts in Dayton), I’ve visited locally-owned restaurants and shops, I’ve been to local high school sports events, and gone to downtown city celebrations.

    Doesn’t the fact that I’m now a contributer to a local hometown news blog mean something to the city, too?

    I cringe when I hear about some locals that are so anti-JMU, because without the university bringing in business, without the growth opportunities offered to Harrisonburg by JMU students and workers, and without the many of us that stayed here after attending JMU, what would the ‘burg be?

    Now, asking whether or not the growth was done in a way that respected and improved the city in the best way is another question, HOW the city grew because of JMU can be debated. But being against JMU as a whole seems really backwards to me, and makes me wonder where I fit in the anti-JMU crowd’s perception.

    Maybe if city residents were more in-touch with JMU and its people, and worked with them instead of against them, there would be even more people like me that become (I believe) valuable contributors to the town and proud to live here. Why not make students like me the “rule” instead of the “exception”?

    P.S. The city elected a recent JMU graduate to City Council who is now Mayor of Harrisonburg. I think the acceptance of Kai is a telling sign that the majority opinion of the city is now favorable of JMU.

  39. Thanh says:

    I’ve been corresponding with Leslie via email and wanted to make a correction to my last comment above:

    Leslie is correct that there is a line item in the City budget titled “Blacks Run Greenway”, under the Parks & Rec budget, which funds/describes the position of the Stream Health Coordinator. However, these City funds are not given to the Friends of Blacks Run Greenway (group). I can see how those two dots could have been connected, although the conclusion that the City supports FBRG is incorrect.

  40. Thanh says:

    Let me rephrase the last thing I said: “I can see how those two dots could have been connected, although the conclusion that the City supports FBRG *financially* is incorrect.”

  41. David Miller says:


    That was the sexiest rebuttal post ever.

  42. John Eckman says:

    I was there, I saw it, and it was my fault that we didn’t have some of this discussion that evening. Sorry about that. Considering things ran late, maybe that’s just as well.

    Leslie is to be commended for putting in a lot of time and energy on the project–obviously something driven by passion and concern.

    I had not seen the film before the premier and was surprised by the ambition and scope of the project. It took on several of the biggest issues in the area (and the country): homogenizing landscapes and consumer cultures, immigration, suppression of union organizing, the whole political economy critique of how power and money rule decisions, how corporate retailers ruin small businesses, race relations and abuse of police power, the sad, decades old story of “urban renewal,” the growth pressures on family farmers, the hope of renewal in locally grown foods, the huge impact of a loop road, the activism of local citizens…… Did I miss anything?

    I’m not sure how useful the film is in it’s current longer form, but I can imagine a shorter, tighter, less angry version of it could be helpful in fueling discussions on growth issues around the area.
    I think it would be improved by limiting the number of issues it tackles and with more focus on the most informed opinions–informed by facts or personal experience, not just anger or speculation. A tighter version might leave out some of the characters who seemed to be simply complaining about power and money in general. Those sentiments may hold true, but they are still sentiments, or at least came across that way.

    While I don’t know enough to comment on the issue of process and power in JMU decisions (though I’m sure they haven’t all been ideal), I would also consider leaving out the whole Kyger issue. I know this is probably core stuff from Leslie’s perspective, but for audiences removed from H’burg it may be too specific a situation. Besides, from a design standpoint, JMU seems to have done a pretty admirable job of keeping it’s footprint reasonably tight and compact. Many other schools have spread out across communities much less efficiently. We may not like how they’ve grown or how the associated dense housing complexes have sprung up, but in terms of where they’ve grown, they’ve kept it reasonably walkable and bikeable. There’s still a lot of work to do to make all the transit, paths and roads make any sense, but at least the distances are relatively short.

    Valley Conservation Council will be planning a screening of a very interesting PBS show called Save our Land, Save our Towns in the next few months. I hope we can use that event to have the discussion we should have had after Leslie’s film.

  43. Renee says:

    Haha thanks… I guess… :)

  44. Lee says:

    The word arrogance is just in the meaning of the word Hubris
    Was not aimed at anyone and Emmy missed my point, Leslie is not the person whom is defending anything, it is all of you that are here defending what you have said in the film.

  45. Emmy says:

    I didn’t miss your point. I disagree with your point.

  46. JGFitzgerald says:

    “[A]ll of you that are here defending what you have said in the film.”

    Forty-five comments, with one or two from people in the film. Did I miscount?

  47. Ray says:

    “If Kenny Kyger’s property was not for sale, as you allowed him to say in your film, how come he put a price tag on it?”

    Maybe because he was hit with an eminent domain threat if he didn’t sell and he knew he’d need more to re-build his business elsewhere than he’d get from a judge in a settlement? There’s a difference between Mr. Kyger putting a “for sale” sign in his front yard and him putting a value on the property when a state agency comes knocking on his door wanting to buy it when everyone knows what happens if you refuse that offer.

    Now I have a question for you Mr. Perrine. When the bond that furnished some of the money for the performing arts center was voted on we the voters were told it would be located where Anthony Seeger Hall is now. After the bond passed it was then decided to move it to the present location because it’d look nicer across from the quad. Was it really neccasary to take an established business just for aesthetic purposes?

    If all this has been covered in the documentary I apologize as I haven’t seen the movie.

  48. JGFitzgerald says:

    “Was it really neccasary to take an established business just for aesthetic purposes?”

    Also the safety issue of having a place to create a new Main Street crossing. Just saying.

  49. Andy Perrine says:


    Believe me, after how I was portrayed in “Rocktown,” I would like nothing more than to describe for you the progression of events in the transaction between the university and Mr. Kyger. But JMU leadership took the position at the outset that it would not discuss publicly the details of the transaction and maintains that position today. I will say, however, that a price tag on the funeral home was presented long before the university’s board of visitors voted to acquire the property by any means.

    And in response to your direct question,

    “Was it really neccasary to take an established business just for aesthetic purposes?”

    No, it was not necessary. First of all, let’s be clear — the university was not interested in owning Mr. Kyger’s “established business,” just his property. And from what I can tell, the established business continues to thrive today in its new location.

    As for the property, it was not necessary for the university to take it because Mr. Kyger sold the 1.3-acre plot for $5.5 million to the university.

  50. mikekeane says:

    Great discussion! I only wish we could have had at least some of this back and forth in person at the theater. I also apologize for my part in not facilitating that; if I had realized that it not been previously announced I would have let everyone know to stay for a discussion. I wasn’t able to see the whole film but I will say I enjoyed it at the time, though I’ve been enlightened to see some of the other sides of these issues and all the comments above. I do think its unfortunate that such an upstanding and well intentioned citizen as Andy Perrine became fodder for a punch line in the film, especially with his children there while Neff and the various city council members that allowed much of the misguided development to happen got off easier. I wonder if the JMU girl interviewed was at the screening, if anyone looked bad it was certainly her! I agree with those above that objectivity is a farce but I think it is a shame that the term “documentary” is murky and misunderstood, especially in Andy’s case considering he thought he was signing on for something more objective. However this certainly counts as a documentary and Leslie is right that it doesn’t need anyone’s approval to be released (so long as, and assuming that, all legal obligations of the film maker are met). Apparently the film will be edited down a bit, in that process perhaps some things could be added and taken away to narrow the focus a bit and clean up the factual misunderstandings (dead waterway, etc). Perhaps time lines and interview dates could be added graphically. I know I would be much more likely to purchase or at least rewatch the documentary in that case. I am also a former JMU student who has stayed on so I see both sides of this issue, I’m frequently irritated by the students but most anti JMU sentiment by locals is completely unproductive. Do you think HHS students that move to another community for college are sensitive to their new surroundings? Its doubtful that they are, especially in their first few years there. A look at the influence of JMU, city council and several major developers on Harrisonburg for better or worse is a great basis for a documentary. Leslie – if you have the time and patience for it I think you could rework the 50 interviews you have (plenty for a documentary by the way), add a few more and use some of the above dialogue to make an even better documentary – perhaps framing it in the context of many other small towns struggling with development issues so that it will have a broader appeal. I would also drop the Little Washington part, expand the golf course part, and discuss the student slums on Port Republic road more if it was my project. So there is my two cents!

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