CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For his first feature film, West Virginian native Jon Matthews has hit a high mark: his "Surviving Cliffside" will make its world debut March 9 at this year's prestigious South by Southwest Film Festival, in Austin, Texas.
The film concerns a young girl named Makala, daughter of Matthews' cousin, who is recovering from leukemia and making a run for Little Miss West Virginia, while living in a trailer park known for drugs and crime.
Matthews, 36, said his film is respectful of the lives of his family members, who live in Alum Creek in Lincoln County.
"My film is not MTV or Honey Boo Boo. It's not a freak show or an outsider film. It's a film by a West Virginian made about his own family, in his hometown. I want to give them the same dignity and respect that I would give the president, if I were doing a documentary of him."
At the same time, in order to be effective, a documentary must be complex, Matthews said.
"It has to be revealing. It has to show as many sides of a person as possible. It has to show the subjects angry, under stress, depressed, fearful, as well as joyful or in love. The more sides of a person you show, the better you get to know them."
The film doesn't shy from its portrayal of how Makala's father wrestles with prescription drug abuse and has a penchant for gun violence.