The 16 Best Documentaries About Appalachia (Ranked)

Coal miners. Moonshine. Old-time pickers. There’s only one Appalachia.

Here are my top docs about Appalachia (ranked):

1) Country Boys

Directed by David Sutherland in 2006 for PBS’s Frontline.

Country Boys narrates the journey of two boys from age 15 to 18 in rural America.

It’s a marathon doc (6 hours), exploring the complexities of coming of age in an often overlooked part of the country.

Sutherland’s direction is intimate, offering a raw and real portrayal of youth and aspiration.

This doc stands out for its deep dive into the nuances of rural adolescence, challenging stereotypes with every frame.

It’s a remarkable study of hope and hardship, woven together with genuine storytelling.

Watch Country Boys on PBS for free here (it’s 3 parts (2 hours each):

2) This Is The Last Dam Run Of Likker I’ll Ever Make

Directed by Popcorn Sutton in 2002 (1 hr 33 min).

This cult classic doc features the charismatic moonshiner Popcorn Sutton.

It’s an unvarnished look at a fading Appalachian tradition, told through the eyes of a local legend.

The doc captures a lifestyle at the brink of extinction, steeped in regional lore.

Its raw authenticity and Sutton’s magnetic personality make this doc uniquely compelling.

It’s a time capsule, preserving a piece of Appalachian heritage that’s as intoxicating as the liquor it celebrates.

Note: I’m so enamored with Popcorn that I created a ranking of the 5 Best Documentaries on Popcorn Sutton (“This is The Last Dam Run…” is #1 but it barely beats out #s 2 and 3!).

Watch This Is The Last Dam Run Of Likker I’ll Ever Make for free on YouTube by clicking the embedded video above or going here:

3) Harlan County U.S.A.

103 minutes. Directed by Barbara Kopple.

Harlan County, USA dives deep into the 1973 Brookside Strike in Harland County, Kentucky (the hear of Central Appalachia’s coal mining region!).

It’s a gritty doc, showcasing the resilience of 180 coal miners and their wives against Eastover Coal Company.

The soundtrack is a soulful blend, featuring Merle Travis and Hazel Dickens, enhancing its raw authenticity.

It’s unique for its unfiltered portrayal of labor struggles, blending music with powerful activism.

The doc shows the tense relationship between coal conpanies and iners (a systemic issue in the political economy of Appalachia) .

Harlan County, USA is the human spirit of the underdog in the face of corporate power.

Watch Harlan County U.S.A. on HBO’s Max or the Criterion Channel. Full streaming options are here:

4) Born in a Ballroom

70 minutes. Directed by Jonathan Lacocque and Clara Lehmann.

This doc tells the story of Eleanor Mailloux, founder of the Hütte Restaurant in Helvetia, West Virginia.

It’s a heartwarming tale of a woman who embraced her community through food and culture.

The doc intertwines Eleanor’s personal journey with the seasonal rhythm of the restaurant.

Born in a Ballroom is unique for its celebration of Appalachian culture and heritage, through the lens of one extraordinary woman’s life.

It’s a doc that feeds the soul, echoing Eleanor’s mantra of living life to the fullest.

Watch Born in a Ballroom for free (with ads) on Tubi and Plex or rent it on Apple TV, Amazon, Microsoft, Google al. All streaming options should be here:

5) Mountain Talk

Directed by Neal Hutcheson.

Mountain Talk is a fascinating exploration of the Appalachian dialect.

This doc features personalities like Popcorn Sutton, offering a window into a distinct linguistic heritage.

Hutcheson’s work is educational yet engaging, revealing the rich tapestry of regional speech.

Its uniqueness lies in its focus on language as a cultural artifact, offering insights into the Appalachian way of life.

Mountain Talk is a celebration of linguistic diversity and regional identity.

Watch Mountain Talk for free on YouTube at

6) 2000 Miles to Maine

1 hour 25 minutes. Directed by Douglas Morse.

2000 Miles to Maine captures the arduous journey of Appalachian Trail hikers.

Morse and Estes bring us stories of dreams, struggles, and the harsh realities of this epic trek.

From Jack’s unwanted canine companion to the trail’s own Cheech and Chong, Malice and Kentucky, each hiker’s tale adds depth to this adventure.

The doc is unique in its focus on the human element of the Appalachian Trail.

It’s a testament to the spirit of exploration and the personal transformations encountered along the way.

Note: If you love hiking, you might want to check out The Best 13 Documentaries About Hiking ranking I made (it includes 3 additional hiking docs that take place in the Appalachian Trail!).

You can buy the 2000 Miles to Maine doc for $9.99 at Grandfather Films at

7) American Hollow

1 hour 30 minutes. Directed by Rory Kennedy.

American Hollow offers an intimate look into the lives of an Appalachian family.

Kennedy’s lens captures a world that seems unaltered by time, revealing the enduring bonds and traditions of this close-knit community.

This doc stands out for its portrayal of Appalachian life, unfiltered and genuine.

It’s a moving depiction of family and resilience in a region often misunderstood.

Watch American Hollow for free on YouTube here:

8) The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia

1 hour 15 minutes. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal.

This doc delves into the controversial photography of Shelby Lee Adams.

It challenges viewers to question the essence of art and representation, especially in the context of Appalachian families.

Its unique approach to exploring Adams’ work and the ethical questions surrounding it makes this doc an intriguing blend of art critique and cultural exploration.

Watch The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia for free on Kanopy at If that doesn’t work, try here for other options:

9) Hillbilly: The Real Story

1 hour 30 minutes.

Hillbilly: The Real Story peels back the stereotypes to reveal the rich history and culture of Appalachians.

Featuring personalities like Popcorn Sutton, it provides a nuanced perspective of a people often misrepresented.

This doc’s strength lies in its ability to humanize and celebrate Appalachian heritage, offering a more complex and respectful portrayal than commonly seen.

Watch Hillbilly: The Real Story for free on YouTube at

10) The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Directed by Julien Nitzberg.

Chronicling the notorious White family, this doc is a raw, unapologetic look into their daily lives in Boone County, West Virginia.

It’s a wild ride through trials, tribulations, and the untamed spirit of this infamous family.

The doc’s uniqueness comes from its unfiltered access to the Whites, showing a world of extremes and the resilience of a family living on the edge.

Watch The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia for free on YouTube at

11) King Coal

Directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon.

King Coal is a poetic journey through Appalachia’s coal mining legacy.

It follows sixth graders Lanie Bayless Marsh and Gabrielle Wilson as they navigate their coal-infused heritage.

The doc juxtaposes the lush Appalachian landscapes with the stark realities of mining life.

Its uniqueness lies in its blend of youthful dreams against the backdrop of coal’s deep-rooted impact.

Sheldon’s narrative is a dance of life and death, celebrating and questioning the region’s coal legacy.

I don’t see King Coal streamiing anywhere right now. Check out for the latest options to watch.

12) The Long Start to the Journey

Directed by Chris Gallaway.

This doc chronicles Gallaway’s personal quest to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (the “AT”!).

Featuring a diverse cast of hikers and trail angels, it’s a tale of perseverance and discovery.

Gallaway (he’s known as “Frost,” after Robert Frost) gives an introspective look at the trail’s meaning, making it a deeply personal and universal story of adventure and self-discovery.

Some highlights:

Mile 137.3, Last Chance: Gallaway discovers friendship. He encounters “Last Chance,” vital to his trek.

Mile 198.9, the Smokies: The most challenging part. Intense cold, freezing nights. Companions endure frostbite; Gallaway shows grit. Despite hardships, stunning scenes emerge.

Mile 413.6: An unforgettable stretch. Accompanied by family and girlfriend Sunshine, Gallaway hikes from Damascus, VA to Grayson Highlands. The ambiance? Enchanting—free-roaming ponies, tranquil nights, star-filled skies.

You can watch 5 video clips of the documentary for free on YouTube here:; and some cool trail notes/pics here:

13) Hillbilly

Hillbilly delves into the stereotypes of Appalachian mountain folk.

This documentary challenges preconceived notions, offering a deeper understanding of the region’s culture and people.

It’s an eye-opening exploration of identity and community in Appalachia.

The doc’s strength lies in its ability to debunk myths, revealing the richness and complexity of hillbilly culture.

Watch Hillbilly for free on Tubi (with ads) or rent it on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube et al for a few bucks (streaming options here:

14) Remote Area Medical

Unaware that some Americans lack proper health care? “Remote Area Medical” will open your eyes.

It’s about the nonprofit of the same name, and it doesn’t hold back. You’ll see the raw reality of healthcare deprivation, right down to the decayed teeth.

This organization rolls out mobile clinics. They’re like pop-up shops for free healthcare, reaching the forgotten corners of the U.S. and beyond.

The doc is a straight-up account of a three-day health fest in Bristol, Tennessee. Hundreds waiting, some overnight, for a chance at a doctor’s care.

And the dental scenes? They’re a wake-up call for anyone who’s ever skipped a dentist appointment.

The bigger questions? Left hanging a bit.

Why are doctors scarce in Appalachia? Can a single clinic visit make up for years of neglect?

And what about personal responsibility for health, considering the evident smoking and obesity?

“Remote Area Medical” might dodge the deep healthcare debate, but it sure stirs the pot.

Watch Remote Area Medical for free (with ads on Tubi, Vudu and Plex) or rent it on Apple TV, Amazon et al for a few bucks. Streaming options are here:

15) Appalachian Impressions: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Impressions takes viewers on a 2,173-mile journey along the Appalachian Trail.

It’s a vivid portrayal of the hikers’ experiences, blending personal stories with the grandeur of the trail.

The documentary captures the essence of this epic trek.

They cover all 14 states as the seasons change.

Volunteer crews back them up all the way.

Its uniqueness lies in showcasing the diversity of hikers and their motivations, making it a mosaic of human endurance and nature’s splendor.

I don’t see Appalachian Impressions available to stream anywhere. But the Director’s Flagler Films web site has options to buy the DVD:

16) Inbred Family: The Whittakers

12 minutes. Directed by Mark Laita.

Inbred Family: The Whittakers is a compassionate look at a marginalized family in Odd, West Virginia.

The doc highlights their struggles, happiness, and community support. It’s a poignant portrayal of resilience and human dignity.

This doc stands out for its empathetic approach, offering a window into the lives of the Whittakers, challenging viewers to look beyond stereotypes.

Watch the doc for free on YouTube here: Inbred Family – The Whittakers

I did a deeper dive into the Whittakers here: The Whittaker Family Documentary Series (9 parts!). That page includes 8 extra videos/docs (all done by Mark Laita) — all are free to watch.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac of Daily Doc