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Surviving Cliffside (2013)

Not Rated | | Documentary, Drama
After their beauty-pageant-queen daughter beats leukemia, a family, living in a trailer park known for its guns and drugs, tries to put their lives back together in time for their daughter to make a run for Little Miss West Virginia.


Jon Matthews


Jon Matthews (story), Jon Matthews
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview:
E.J. Huffman E.J. Huffman ... Himself
Brandy Smith Brandy Smith ... Herself
Makala Smith Makala Smith ... Herself
Josey Smith Josey Smith ... Herself
R.J. Hughes R.J. Hughes ... Himself
Justin Gravely Justin Gravely ... Himself
Brooklyn Gravely Brooklyn Gravely ... Herself
Cierra Gravely Cierra Gravely ... Herself
Jon Matthews ... Himself


Filmmaker Jon Matthews takes a loving and honest look at his family through the lens of the healthcare and welfare systems, beauty pageants, guns, drugs, theft, and how each is used in an attempt to survive. Brandy's unembellished strength and E.J.'s heartfelt sensitivity shine through in their struggle to heal their daughter Makala of leukemia and keep her on point in contesting for Little Miss West Virginia, all while striving to stay above the poverty line. Matthews examines the nature of addiction through substance abuse, suicides, and the grip-hold of mass-marketed consumer goods, as well as the journey to living without these substitutes for a secure tether to life. Antithetically, sleep appears here as something to avoid in order to get by, whether through Chad high on Opana fighting a coma or Brandy stitching a winning costume for Makala. The urges of a body in motion are highlighted for every person in the film, translating across a spectrum of health and consciousness as the... Written by Audrey Dundee Hannah

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Documentary | Drama


Not Rated






Filming Locations:

Alum Creek, West Virginia, USA

Company Credits

Production Co:

Parting Shots Media See more »
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User Reviews

A Moving Personal Tribute to a Struggling West Virginia Family
12 March 2014 | by JustCuriositySee all my reviews

Surviving Cliffside was very well-received at its World Premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It is a very personal film in which director Jon Matthews profiles his cousin E.J. and his family in a small rural West Virginia town of Cliffside where he himself grew up. The film is an intimate portrait of a family struggling with health issues, drug addiction and still finding a way to muddle through. The parents are trying their best to give their 2 young daughters opportunities that they never had through competition in beauty pageants. This is the type of rare film that shows what life is like in the forgotten parts of America that have been left behind by deindustrialization and corporate abuse. Jobs in this town were once linked Union Carbide, but after they left the town its inhabitants were left to struggle with all of the plagues of poverty – lack of education, widespread drug use, cancer clusters linked to chemical contamination. Recently, this same area was affected by a chemical spill that made the water too dangerous to drink. In 1960, the Kennedy campaign came to West Virginia and promised to save Appalachia from poverty, but somehow all the efforts of War on Poverty haven't done much to transform West Virginia. The good people of West Virginia deserve better. This is an eloquent film about life in this area and I hope that it gets some distribution so that more people can connect to these very much forgotten Americans in a small part of this vast country.

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