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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Them That Follow

by writers/directors Britt Poulton & Dan Madison Savage

Deep in Appalachia, up the mountain and through the thicket, there are a forgotten people. Beyond the all-night fast food joints and tanning salons, where the coal trains used to run and family homes once stood proud. Strange and insular, they are hill people, they are snake handlers. Casting out demons, speaking in tongues, drinking poison, healing the sick, and taking up deadly serpents. 

Snake handlers are spiritual castaways belonging to an obscure, but growing, sect of American Pentecostalism: part of a century-old tradition of worshipping with venomous snakes during church services. Seeing themselves as the vanguards of salvation in a morally bankrupt world, these folks put their lives on the line—each and every week—to prove themselves before God. It’s a ritual that has been mocked, maligned, and even persecuted. And so, many stay hidden—tucked away in the hills of Appalachia.

And that is where our story begins, in one of these unseen communities, where we imagine not only what it means to be set apart from the world, but what that means for a woman. Women occupy a complicated, at times perilous, position in these churches. Banned from wearing makeup and required to wear ankle-length skirts, their space can be narrow. Some view their traditions as a refuge, while others writhe quietly under their constraints. Our film explores both perspectives. 

But the beating heart of our story belongs to the experience of one young woman, Mara Childs, a pastor’s daughter. And her journey to reconcile faith and doubt, knowledge and instinct, this life and the next—all to come of age. 

Defining her life, her faith, on her own terms.

Something we both struggled to do. Because we grew up in our own small corners. Dan, as a queer person coming of age in a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania; and Britt, as a girl coming of age in a conservative Mormon community in Southern Utah. We both fought to forge identities that were not laid out for us. We wanted to be more than the boxes we were born into and so we reached. Fearfully, then furiously. 

Just as Mara does.

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