Introducing Andie Morgenlander and her film “Whistle Down Wind” – Queer People in Rural Appalachia

I have written several blogs in the past about performing arts and how they can highlight various areas of diversity and social justice.  Once again I am pleased to support this new film about an unaddressed segment of our population – LGBTQ+ people living in US Appalachia.  I also had a chance to discuss this important new film with the co-writer and director Andie Morgenlander.  Please read this fascinating and insightful interview and consider supporting her work!

STAN: Andie, could you tell us a little more about the film, maybe its plot and main characters?

ANDIE: I’m happy to go a little bit into the narrative, without giving too much away! It’s a queer love story, taking place in Southern Appalachia. The film is chapter-style, so we’ll see them in the late 90s as children and early/mid 2000s as teens, and then adults.

The story starts by nine-year old Janie’s artistic family relocating to a small Appalachian town. Her and Alex, her new next door neighbor, become inseparable – when Janie loses her Mother, Alex’s supportive place in her life becomes solidified. In their teenage years, Alex starts dating her youth group friend Jake, struggling to make sense of familial expectations and her beliefs. Alex and Janie navigate an awkward but enlivening double date and the social scene of their rural high school. The besties sneak out to a party, and a rollercoaster of an evening leads to their first kiss, intolerant frenemies provoking a fist fight and ultimately, getting caught and quickly closeted again by Alex’s parents.

You’ll have to see the film to find out what happens during the adult chapter, and how the story ends!

STAN: Why did you decide to make this particular film? Is there some particular unseen segment of the community you are wanting to make visible?

ANDIE: My hope with this film is to spotlight queer communities in Southern Appalachia. I think often times there is a misconception that trans and queer people don’t live in rural areas. And we do! There is such a rich history of LGBT+ resistance and existence in the South, and it’s really important to me that these narratives be shared. Lastly, shying away from southern stereotypes, we’ll explore a subtle, third space of queer identity and the impact of conservative ideology, family and grief on sexuality. Southern roots can be muddy. How do we break down the cultural barriers that keep us from fully loving one another?

STAN: Are there things from your own personal or life experiences that led you to create this film?

Film Co-Writer and Director Andie Morgenlander

ANDIE: This script is deeply inspired by parts of my co-writer, Julia Christgau’s, personal story. However, the film definitely reflects many aspects of my personal journey. From the impact of patriarchy on teenage relationships, to navigating family dynamics, to the saving grace of best friendships….these are all threads that have impacted my identity. Whistle Down Wind is the movie I needed growing up. It’s the film I need now – a mirror, a way of looking back and reminding my inner teenager that they were/are valid. My co-writer, Julia and I are both queer. I’m gender nonconforming and was born and raised in North Carolina. This narrative shows how we lean on our chosen family, our best friends, and our blood-bound family…even when it’s difficult. Our film makes visible a Southern slice of queer exploration that many have lived, but few have seen depicted in cinema. For these reasons, I am beyond grateful and stoked to direct this feature film.

STAN: What is your current schedule for the film and how may people be able to view it?

ANDIE: This Summer, we’ll shoot in Sylva, North Carolina with a blend of student filmmakers from Western Carolina University and professionals! We are less than two months away from shooting this film. To create an environment of mutual care on-set, we’ll shoot Whistle Down Wind through an ethical filmmaking framework. Historically, the film industry has been riddled with harmful practices, placing crew members’ needs last on the priority list. We believe those at the forefront of the making process should be treated as sacred human artists.

I wrote this framework with input from the Southern film community, my grad cohort and mentors. Liberation, collective care, equitable storytelling, accountability and wholeheartedness are the core elements of this methodology. In late June, we’ll have a week of orientation where we’ll teach/learn this framework together. Then, we shoot for eighteen days in June and July! After that, we’ll begin the post-journey. The film will likely play the festival circuit in late 2025 or early 2026, and receive online distribution. Maybe we can send a follow up email when it’s completed and ready to watch!!

STAN: How can people assist you in bringing this film to completion?

ANDIE: Right now we are raising 25K for production through our crowdfunding campaign: and these funds will help pay for food for the crew, cast + crew payments, housing and location costs. If you are able to spare a financial donation of any amount, they are all tax-deductible since we’re running this campaign through our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, who is a 501c3.

Additionally, if anyone has a catering connection in Asheville, Dillsboro or Sylva, NC OR access to a house that could be used as a location, in-kind support is incredibly helpful at this point in the process, so if you want to support in that way, don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]. You can also follow our socials through @JusticeFilmCollective or @whistledownwindfilm.

STAN: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the film or yourself?

ANDIE: This is very much a passion project and a labor of love. We’ve been backed by organizations such as New Orleans Film Festival, Warner Media, Campaign for Southern Equality, Cucalorus Film Festival and Blue Ridge Pride. As a Southern story made by and for the Southern LGBT+ community, I’m so grateful that you’ve even taken the time to read this Q + A, and thank you so much for your support of this project!

STAN: Thank you for spending this time with me, and I wish you the best in securing funding completing this wonderful project.

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Do consider supporting this film’s production by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign or emailing [email protected].

The Broad Impact of State Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

This year in my state of North Carolina and several other states across the country, state legislatures are introducing and passing laws that target LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) people. These laws have significant business, community and personal impact, and because of intersectionality, ramifications can be felt far beyond the LGBTQ community.

The vast majority of these laws (link to a list of all these laws) target the transgender community, including prohibiting parents from seeking medical care of their trans children, legislating how doctors can treat trans patients, prohibiting trans teens from participating in sports, and even outlawing drag queens!

Impact on People. Transgender and queer people are now being told by their political leaders that there is something wrong, bad or sick about them. Politicians are declaring that these people are not equal Americans, but instead evil people who are a scourge on society and need to be rooted out. Through their actions, these politicians are telling us transgender people and drag queens harm more people than AK45 assault rifles! This kind of horrible messaging can lead to depression, mental illness and suicide, as well as other citizens targeting them for bullying or even assault and murder.

Impact on the LGBTQ community.  When an entire community is targeted for hateful action by political leaders, it damages the community. It can lead to destructive behavior and mental illness instead of empowering a community to contribute their best to society. It sets up neighbors against each other, causing division and strife in the community.

Economic / business impact. People need to remember the $400 million in lost revenue when North Carolina enacted our anti-transgender anti-gay HB2“ bathroom bill” in 2016. The NBA moved their all-star game out of state and several major companies cancelled or curtailed their financial investments in NC. Over the past few months, I have been told by some company managers and even leaders in one branch of our US military that they are not able to recruit employees or get people to move to states that have these hateful laws out of fear for themselves or their families.

What should we do? Individuals need to show empathy and support for their LGBTQ+ friends and family members impacted by these laws. People need to stop voting for any politician who votes for harmful hateful legislation. And companies and organization need to assure they do not give a single penny to these politicians. Companies absolutely cannot claim to be pro-diversity or LGBTQ supportive and then support such political leaders. It is totally duplicitous. (Read my blog from last April “Companies cannot claim to be LGBTQ+ supportive while contributing to anti-LGBTQ+ legislators”)

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Note: On July 25, I am moderating a panel discussion session titled “The Impact of State LGBTQ Legislation – Policy (Panel)” at the 2023 Raleigh Chamber of Commerce DEI Conference.