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Documentary "Country Crush" to Premiere

Posted Aug. 30, 2010
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The combines prepare for battle.

A free screening of Country Crush, a new documentary about the combine demolition derby at the Columbiana County Fair, will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. at Kent State University at Salem City Center Campus. Country Crush is the story of the wacky, weird combine demolition derby, a sport where giant old combines face off in a battle of metal-bending prowess.

Country Crush features interviews with several drivers who prepare the old combine harvesters for competition. It is the work of Molly Merryman, associate professor in the Department of Sociology. The program will premiere on Western Reserve PBS (WNEO 45.1/WEAO 49.1) on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 9 p.m.

Country Crush focuses on combine demolition derby, a locally-cultivated sport in which drivers of massive combine harvesters crash their machines in a competition that involves grinding and tearing metal, smoking engines and punctured tires.

A staple at the Columbiana County Fair since 1992, the combine demolition derby attracts a large crowd of fans and brings together farmers and locals in a friendly competition. The derby lasts for several heats, and the last machine moving wins.

"I think these machines are so gigantic and so expensive when a farmer buys them new, that the thought of somebody intentionally smashing one into another strikes some people, "I'd say most people, as lunacy," notes Columbiana County fair board member and derby announcer Don Humphreys. Humphreys serves as documentary narrator, as well as being one of the community members featured in the film.

Country Crush was filmed during the 2007 fair season and features drivers as they prepare their combines for competition: spending hours on mechanical and structural work for a competition in which they can be knocked out of in a matter of minutes. Featured combine demolition derby drivers, past and present, are: Mike Cianni, who refers to himself as the grandfather of the combine demolition derby because he is the only driver from the first competition in 1992; Justin Fraser, the bad boy who plays to win; Matt Johnston, the top trophy holder who now runs a dairy operation; and a group of volunteer firefighters led by the late chief Tom Vickroy, Joe McKarns, Jason Raymond and Nate Smith, along with his brother Scott Smith.

The documentary is directed and produced by Merryman. Merryman's documentaries have been screened at festivals, conferences and at universities internationally. Her last documentary, Invisible Struggles: Stories of Northern Segregation, aired on Western Reserve PBS in 2007. An earlier draft version of Country Crush screened in the Czech Republic at the internationally recognized Jihlava Documentary Festival and at the distinguished FAMU film school in Prague.

Interviews and derby footage are punctuated by the sounds of Kentucky Overflow, a Dayton-based band that scored original music for the documentary. "Kentucky Overflow creates a unique synthesis of rock, bluegrass, country and roots, which I thought would be the perfect match for the men featured in this documentary," says director and producer Merryman. "I was delighted when the band decided to come to the derby, meet the drivers and develop original music for each person and other aspects of the documentary."

For additional air dates and times, visit www.WesternReservePBS.org/schedule.htm.