Radical Christianity
Published/Last Modified on Sunday, May 24, 2009 7:16 AM CDT

New Iberia native Brandt Russo has been kicked off the properties of more churches than most people probably attend in a lifetime.

He has been stepped over and avoided. He’s been arrested. He’s been asked to leave by federal agents — all while attempting to live “like Jesus calls me to live.”

Russo, 25, is voluntarily homeless.

From "Foxes Have Holes"

Brandt Russo is pictured on the bus he has converted to run on used vegetable oil. He travels the country, voluntarily homeless, to talk to people about his 'underground Christianity.' - Mary Catharine Martin / The Daily Iberian

Russo graduated from Assembly Christian School, attended Bible college, and became an ordained minister. He was living in a gated community and working two jobs in Texas a few years ago when he decided to buy a plane ticket to Portland, Ore., give up all his money, drive back to Texas and see what happened. The car he bought there broke down after only six hours on the road and he was welcomed into the home of a family in Idaho.

Encouraged by the hospitality of that family, Russo began a life of train-hopping, wandering, digging in trash bins for food, making friends, and inadvertently becoming “very successful at trying not to be successful.”

Russo has spoken at universities and churches, and has now participated in several documentaries. He’s become a figure in the “underground Christian” scene.

He started a T-shirt company (Can’t Ignore the Poor) he’s trying to register as a nonprofit and gives away most of the proceeds.

He drives a school bus powered with cooking oil, not for political or environmental reasons, he said, but rather because he can’t afford diesel — used cooking oil is free. Russo uses the bus, which has “Can’t Ignore the Poor” written on the side, to pick up homeless people and hitchhikers and give them shelter and food.

Recently, West Virginia PBS producer and independent filmmaker Bob Wilkinson traveled with Russo for two weeks, making a documentary with the working title of “Can’t Ignore the Poor,” a trailer of which can be seen from www.astraydogfilm.com. Wilkinson said the documentary is “a lot to do with Brandt and his choice to live the lifestyle he lives.”

As a person, Wilkinson said what stands out most about Russo is his authenticity.

“He’s real compassionate, and he’s passionate about his beliefs,” he said.

On his own terms



"Article in the Gazz" by Steve Fesenmaier


WV filmmaker Chip Hitchcock finishing film based on Davis Grubb story

Chip Hitchcock shooting his film based on a short story by Davis Grubb

Chip Hitchcock is one of the state’s most active filmmakers, working on both WVPBS projects and many others including Mike Lilly’s landmark indie feature, “Correct Change.”(2002) Most recently, WVPBS aired his “Bridgeport to Baghdad” documentary about WV military traveling from their homes in WV to Iraq. One of his many other projects includes a film version of Davis Grubb’s story (posted) “The Man Who Stole the Moon.” ( Interesting article about Grubb’s “weird” stories.)

It seems that there is a renewed interest in the life and times of Davis Grubb. Several years ago Kate Long won national awards for her radio documentary series, “In Their Own Country” about some of WV’s greatest writers including Grubb. Hopefully, this summer Prof. Thomas Douglass’ biography of Grubb will finally get published.

Northwestern University Press recently published Jeffrey Couchman’s book, “The Night of the Hunter - A Biography of a Film.”

WV filmmakers Bob Wilkinson and Rober Tinnell are working on a documentary about the source of the story Grubb used in “Hunter,” Harry Powers of Clarksburg. ( They recently finished a great new doc on Clarksburg UFO man, Gray Barker, called “Shades of Gray.”) Grubb spent his last year’s living in Clarksburg with great assistance from Merle Moore. His family was forced to moved to Clarksburg after his family was evicted from the family home in Moundsville.)

Hitchcock hopes to have his Grubb film finished in time for the 2009 WV Filmmakers Festival held in Sutton. I hope that he does. Maybe Prof. Douglass will even be able to give a presentation at that event as he once did several years ago when he spoke about his book “A Room Forever,” about another great WV author, Breece Pancake. His presentation was given in support of a showing of Russ Barbour’s unique film on Pancake that received an award that year. ( The ONLY extended film made about Breece Pancake was recently shown in primetime WVPBS for the first time since it was made in 1989. ”Elegy - The Life and Work of Breece D’J Pancake” is a shorter student film made about Pancake that uses some of his footage. The shorter film won an award at the 2004 Rural Route Film Festival.)

I contacted Brad Stalnaker of WVU who co-directed the great WV animated film, “The Griffin and the Minor Canon.” He wanted to make an animated version of Grubb’s great Christmas story, “A Tree Full of Stars.” At that time, Grubb’s brother had just died, not leaving a will. As the executor of his brother’s estate, there was no way to get clearance to make the animated film. Presently, Susan Grubb (suzbud@hotmail.com) and her step brother Trevor McNeil are in charge of the Davis Grubb estate. Given Davis Grubb’s great imagination, I for one hope that there are many more people out there who will eventually make film versions of his many books and short stories.

Who knows - maybe someone like Bob Wilkinson and Robert Tinnell will finally make a feature film about WV’s great writer finally? ( I have been trying to get one made since I met Grubb in 1979, attending a party in Clarksburg for one of his works.)

by Steve Fesenmaier


"The Draft House"

While scouting locations for "Romeo Must Hang" in Sutton, West Virginia. I decided to drop in on Madeline Dodge to see how she was doing. Madeline is at best guess in her eighties and runs a bar in Sutton called the "The Draft House". Beer is only a dollar and your limited to about three choices, and oh yeah, you better get there before 2pm or chances are Madeline has closed up for the day. If it's a WVU gameday, you better go down to the Rite-Aid and pick up your own beer.

Madeline . . . owner of the draft house
madeline dodge. . . owner of the draft house

It's hard to describe the folks that patronize the "Draft House". Their a rugged bunch that filter in from the mountains of Braxton County to begin drinking at 10am is probably the best way to put it. I walked in the door first followed by Steve, the chatter coming from the dozen or so people in the bar screeched to a halt. I have a feeling even though I'd been to the draft house on a number of occasions while shooting "Shades of Gray", that I didn't quite look like I was from around "these here parts". I proceeded up to the bar to where Madeline faithfully sits each and every day to serve patrons.

"How are you today?" I asked. Looking back at me with a look that appeared to say "Who are you?" she said, "Are you still doin' that there TV?" "I guess I am." I said. There was a small laughter that built in the room and the chatter once again began. Steve stood back trying to get a photo while I spoke with Madeline. Our conversation was interrupted by my phone ringing out my Bob Marley ring tone once again lead to an uncomfortable situation. I told Madeline I would see her again and we left. We were now off to the town of Gassaway to meet the Mayors wife so she could take us to see the jail.

Sutton WV, the town with character
sutton wv. . . the town with character

Sutton is a great little town with lots of character and of course the charming little draft house sitting on the corner is a must visit for anyone visiting. Braxton County is starting to feel like a second home with all the filming we've done there over the past few years. Gray Barkers hometown of Exchange is just down the road from Sutton and then of course there is the Braxton County Monster there in Flatwoods. We'll be making many trips up there this year including being a guest at the Flatwoods Monster Festival in September. Should be fun, that will make it 2 for 2 in appearances at the Monster Festivals here in West Virginia, Mothman being the other.

Bob . . . the director
boB . . . the director

Steve . . . the d.p.
steve . . . the d.p.


"Romeo Must Hang"


In 1931 a woman and her three children left their home in Chicago, en route to a new life promised them by a man who promised a home, affection and security. Three weeks later they were found dead - buried in a ditch in a small West Virginia Town . . . and they were not alone.

This is a story that transfixed an entire nation for months; a story that came to be imortalized in a classic Hollywood film (Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum); and even as it has faded into obscurity, its effect echoes even still - every time the news media latches on to a serial killer in an attempt to profitize from scaring the living hell out of you.

The newspapers screamed, "ROMEO MUST HANG!" Rest assured, he did. And his name was Harry Powers.

Were woking on the website now and should have it up and running in early June with a trailer for the film. www.romeomusthang.com




For 14 days we traveled through the south in a bus that ran on used cooking oil. We picked up hitchhikers and listened to the stories of the homeless and those who devote their time caring for them. We survived on the street skills that Brandt Russo acquired form the time he spent on the streets of Houston and hitchhiking throughout the US.


"Shades of Gray"

This is my newest film, it has been picked up by Media 8/Trillian Entertainment.

GRAY BARKER stood at the heart of America’s UFO phenomenon almost from its inception. His investigations led to the publication of his best-selling book, THEY KNEW TOO MUCH ABOUT FLYING SAUCERS. He probed the mysteries of the Men-in-Black, Mothman and the Philadelphia Experiment, which in turn invited unwelcome visits from the government in an effort to silence him.

SHADES OF GRAY peels the layers off one of the great American hoaxter’s of the late twentieth-century. Part Fox Mulder, part Mark Twain, Barker almost single-handedly created or perpetuated much of what is now taken as the “gospel” of UFO’s. But Barker’s twisting of the truth didn’t stop there. In some ways, his entire life was as much a myth as anything he ever wrote. This documentary strives to present a complete picture of a complicated, and ultimately influential, modern American myth-maker.

For more info visit the films website www.theyknewtoomuch.com or send me an email @ astraydogfilm@gmail.com.