As the culmination of four years of studying documentary filmmaking here at Dodge College, Joseph Fischground (BFA/News & Broadcast Journalism and Documentary ’17) has embarked upon his most ambitious project yet for his thesis film.
This past interterm, the pursuit took him deep into Appalachia with crew member, Safi Nazzal (BFA/Film Production, ’19), to explore a medical mystery. Their film will uncover a marginalized refugee group living within the United States: electro-sensitives.
The small town of Green Bank, West Virginia has seen immigration increase dramatically in the past five years. These immigrants all have one thing in common: an aversion to electromagnetic radiation. Exposure to radio waves, caused by technology like cell phones and wifi, will trigger a wide range of symptoms including headaches nausea, skin tingling, tinnitus, and fatigue. For those who have watched the show Better Call Saul, Charles McGill Jr, Saul’s brother, suffers from this. However, while the show does represent a fictionalized version of it, it is indeed a very real problem for some people.
However, Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) is not officially recognized as a diagnosis in the United States. Instead, its largely accepted as a delusion by the medical field. Labeled ‘crazy’, some are forced to search for treatment themselves.
“This is a story that really deserves to be heard, and I’m honored that I could get that chance to tell it,” Fischground said.
Green Bank has emerged as a sort of refuge for EHS sufferers for one reason: the Green Bank Telescope. Since 1955, the telescope has been scanning the skies searching for clues about space. Due to its extreme sensitivity, all radio-technology is banned in order to not interfere with its delicate mechanics, inadvertently creating the perfect environment for people with an aversion to radio waves. There is no wifi, television, microwaves, cell phones, and so on for a ten mile radius around the telescope. The area is known as the National Radio Quiet Zone, the only area like it in the country.
Since 2008, nearly 30 electro-sensitives have settled in the tightly knit town, forming their own community. The new influx has caused a stir in Green Bank. While most have accepted their new neighbors, some have begun to doubt the legitimacy of the condition. This documentary will explore the dynamics of this changing community and the experience of living with a debated illness.
“When I first heard about this story, I immediately knew I had to make a film about it. To me, its a perfect example of how far some go to seek relief,” Fischground explains. “I’ve always been interested in community portraits, and this illness provides the perfect lens to show a place. It also provided a chance to explore West Virginia and the characters within these small Appalachian towns.”
Now deep in the post-produciton process, Fischground is holding a Kickstarter to help complete the film. To support the project, please visit on Kickstarter
The film will premiere, along with the rest of the doc thesis films, on April 26th in the Folino Theater at 7PM. We hope to see you there.