‘Peerless City’ documentary to explore community identity at Fringe Fest


By Kasie McCreary - [email protected]



(From L to R) Page, Miller, and Bernabo celebrate ‘Peerless City’ at premiere.

(From L to R) Page, Miller, and Bernabo celebrate ‘Peerless City’ at premiere.


Photos by Carla Bentley

Page and Bernabo pose with the Portsmouth Proud Instagram sign.


Photo by Amanda Page

Page and Bernabo onstage during a Q&A session at the ‘Peerless City’ premiere.


Photos by Carla Bentley

PORTSMOUTH—A documentary film exploring the evolving identity of Portsmouth and its residents is set to show at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on Friday, June 17, at 6 p.m.

While many people found time to embrace hobbies during the thick of the COVID pandemic, Amanda Page—a Scioto County native and writer currently based in both Portsmouth and Columbus—became a documentarian.

And Portsmouth, a city which Page described as her “oldest, most consistent muse,” is the central character in her debut film.

‘Peerless City’ is scheduled to show at the upcoming Boneyfiddle Fringe Festival, a festival that celebrates diverse and experimental artworks from across the region and country. Page first debuted the film in March of 2022 and hopes that bringing the documentary back to Portsmouth will foster some valuable discussions about community identity.

By analyzing the history of Portsmouth’s city slogans, Page asks her viewers larger questions about the character of a region and the people who inhabit it.

“There are people who have no idea that the slogans even exist,” Page said. “But once you notice them, I really wondered how they shape who we are. When I was 16 I became aware of the [slogan] ‘where southern hospitality begins, ‘and it was always interesting to me. I weirdly internalized it, and it shaped my life. I went to graduate school in Alabama thinking, ‘I want to see what this southern hospitality is all about.’”

Page never set out to become a documentarian until she considered the nature of unfinished projects which, as a writer, she’d experienced. She wondered if a change in medium or genre might breathe new life into old ideas.

“I never intended to be a filmmaker, but I’m a big believer in the form [finding] you. I was presenting at a conference and the title of the presentation was ‘All the Drafts Undone;’ it was about essays that you don’t finish. Really if you’re not finishing it and really care about the content, maybe find a different form,” Page said.

After viewing a documentary about a town similar to Portsmouth, Page was inspired to contact the co-directors through Twitter. ‘Moundsville,’ a film which explores the lives of residents in a West Virginia town through the rise and fall of its industrial framework, inspired her to try to tell the story of her own hometown.

Page made contact with ‘Moundsville’ co-directors John W. Miller and David Bernabo, and the Pittsburgh-based filmmakers quickly became involved in Page’s efforts to film ‘Peerless City.’

Through grant funding, Page was able to secure the necessary budget to tell part of her community’s story. As a filmmaker, Page is completely self-taught, reflecting the work ethic and adaptability of the community of Portsmouth.

“I knew from doing some other projects in Columbus about Ohio Humanities and their media grant, so I was working with them] to get a grant for the film. At one point, I was getting feedback from [them] and they [needed] a script treatment. I had to Google how to write a documentary script treatment because to get the grant you have to have more of a plan. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something with our city slogans, so I had that structure. But it was definitely self taught in that I had never gone through this process before,” explained Page.

By utilizing historical information and interviews with Portsmouth residents, ‘Peerless City’ explores the ways in which Portsmouth’s regional and community identity has evolved along with the city’s slogans. The central question of the documentary according to Page’s website is: “what role do these slogans serve in crafting the identity (and therefore the narrative) of the place?”

Working against harmful stereotypes regarding Portsmouth residents and Appalachians in general, Page believes that the best storytellers for a region are the ones grown within it. And she is committed to telling a part of her hometown’s story—the good, the bad, and everything in between—in a thoughtful and nuanced way.

“My real hope is an impetus or a kickstart to thinking about their own vision for a place,’ said Page. “Whether [viewers] are in Portsmouth or from out of town, a city slogan could be something to aspire to, and a shared vision. And I think all communities thrive when everyone is working for a shared vision. I want people to watch the film, and to think about what’s possible.”

‘Peerless City’ shows on Friday, June 17th at 6 p.m. as part of the Boneyfiddle Fringe Festival. Tickets for the show may be purchased individually or as part of a three-day pass to the festival. Both options are available for purchase through the McKinley Box Office or by visiting the Bone and Fiddle Arts Collective online at bone-fiddlearts.com/boneyfiddle-fringe-festival.

(From L to R) Page, Miller, and Bernabo celebrate ‘Peerless City’ at premiere.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_Page1.jpg(From L to R) Page, Miller, and Bernabo celebrate ‘Peerless City’ at premiere. Photos by Carla Bentley

Page and Bernabo pose with the Portsmouth Proud Instagram sign.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_PageBernabo.jpgPage and Bernabo pose with the Portsmouth Proud Instagram sign. Photo by Amanda Page

Page and Bernabo onstage during a Q&A session at the ‘Peerless City’ premiere.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/06/web1_PageBernabo2.jpgPage and Bernabo onstage during a Q&A session at the ‘Peerless City’ premiere. Photos by Carla Bentley

By Kasie McCreary

[email protected]