Producer Profile: Russ Barbour


As part of the Rockefeller Production Blog, we’ve asked producer Russ Barbour to talk about his work with West Virginia Public Broadcasting and explain why Jay: A Rockefeller’s Story was such an important project for him. 

I joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 1979. Based in our Huntington and Charleston area studios, I’ve participated in the production of such documentaries as New Music (Performance Programming, 1996 National Educational Telecommunications Association Award), Hearts of Glass: The Story of Blenko Handcraft (Cultural Programming, 1998 Communicator Award) and Ashes to Glory (Sports Documentary, 2001 Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Award).    

I’ve also served as a producer for Ken Hechler: In Pursuit of Justice (WV Film’s 2008 Film of the Year), West Virginians Remember World War II (Nostalgia Program, 2008 Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Award), Reconstructing Bill: The Story of Governor William C. Marland (Best Documentary Feature, 2009 West Virginia Filmmakers Festival), Upheaval: The Story of the New River Gorge (2010), The Winding Gulf: Stories from West Virginia’s Coalfields (2011), 3 Rivers: The Bluestone, Gauley and New (2012) and West Virginia: The Road to Statehood (2013).

Throughout my career in video production, I’ve approached documentaries, educational programs and other projects as though I were producing a theatrical film, combining action, drama, education and philosophy in, hopefully, a thoughtful, entertaining manner. I’d say I owe this, in part, to what a mentor once called “a cinematic eye” developed through my lifelong appreciation of moviemaking.      


I believe my love for reading histories, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction and a variety of other books and magazines also plays a significant role in my work. Whether it’s conducting research or interviews, shooting video, writing, lighting, editing or promoting documentaries and a variety of other productions, my job can be very interesting, extremely worthwhile, a lot of fun and a great way to meet wonderful people.

Such is the case in working with veteran WVPB reporter and fellow producer Suzanne Higgins, based in Beckley.

She and I have collaborated on such news and public affairs programs as Statewide, Legislative Update, Outlook and This Week in West Virginia, as well as West Virginia: The Road to Statehood, for which Suzanne contributed to the script and served as narrator.

In July 2013, Suzanne and I turned our attention to Jay: A Rockefeller’s Journey, a documentary that examines the life of John Davison “Jay” Rockefeller IV and his nearly 50 years of public service.

The program considers the impact of young Jay’s family heritage and his journey into adulthood, living and learning in Japan in the 1950s, coming to West Virginia as a community service volunteer and seeking public office in the ’60s, serving as Governor in the 1970s and ’80s and retiring from public office in 2015 after 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

I believe my love for reading histories, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction and a variety of other books and magazines also plays a significant role in my work. -Russ Barbour

It seems that production of most of the has taken at least a year or two to complete. Often, that time is actually spread over two or three years, to accommodate the schedules of participants and availability of equipment and facilities.  

  In this instance, the documentary is two hours in length. When it’s all said and done, it will have taken nearly two years to produce Jay: A Rockefeller’s Journey.

It was Rockefeller’s 2013 visit to Emmons that sparked West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s staff to consider producing a documentary that would examine public service and political office through the life of John Davison Rockefeller IV, a story told largely through compelling narrative, enlightening interviews, hundreds of thought-provoking photographs and thousands of feet of archival news film and videotape.

Our crew faced a variety of challenges, from scheduling, crewing, lighting, recording and transcribing interviews around the state and in Washington, DC to locating, securing and sorting through videotaped roundtable discussions, committee hearings and floor speeches.

More to come…