Appalachian heritage celebrated in moonshine documentary ‘The Last One’

Alexander McCall

The Appalachian Heritage Council of the Appalachian Popular Programming Society presented ‘The Last One” on campus Monday night in hopes to shed some light on the unique history of the region. 

The documentary, released in 2008, chronicles the final batch of moonshine distilled in the mountains of North Carolina by lifelong maker Popcorn Sutton.

The Appalachian Heritage Council brings cultural events to campus in order to “promote and celebrate the culture of the Appalachian region,” said Annie Baldwin, advisor of the council.

Whereas the council has previously hosted mainly music and dance events, they hope to branch out this year through more educational and thought-provoking programs.

“People come to App for the football games, the music program, the art program and everything, but I feel like a lot of people forget where this whole place got started, and that’s with the heritage of Appalachian,” said Tyler Peterson, chairperson of the Appalachian Heritage Council and organizer of the event. 

He attributes moonshine runners and the connection to stock car racing as significant in forming today’s mountain culture and atmosphere.

“Moonshine is one of the bigger reasons why Appalachia is what it is,” Peterson said. “It’s a founding trait of this area.”

The Emmy award-winning film follows the involved process of moonshine production, from building the site to bottling the high-proof whiskey, using the craft style of traditional distilling passed down through generations of mountain families. Through interviews with notable mountain journalists and novelists, the stereotype of the hillbilly moonshiner is unraveled.

Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, featured in the film, was a notorious modern bootlegger who made a career out of the illegal process, gaining underground popularity after escaping federal convictions in the 1970s and 1990s. The “Last One” was released in 2008, before his 2009 suicide to escape further punishment for growing federal convictions.

“I think it’s important to celebrate where this region has come from, what goes on in this region, what historically has made this region what it is,” Baldwin said. “While [moonshine] is illegal, it’s a unique aspect of what this [region] is today.”

Peterson noted that some of the heritage council members are actually from the same area as Sutton.

“This area is just steeped in culture, and it’s a big part of why this university is here,” Peterson said. “It needs to be brought to the forefront of people’s minds.”

The Appalachian Heritage Council meets Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in the New River Room of Plemmons Student Union.

STORY: LOVEY COOPER, Senior A&E Reporter