Charleston, WVa – The latest documentary film to examine mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia premiered last night to a standing-room-only crowd, who poured in the Capitol Cultural Center last night filling almost 500 seats in the theatre.
Coal Country, a film made by Phylis Geller and Mari-Lyn Evans, is different than the handful of documentary films produced on the same subject in the last years, including multi-award winning films Mountaintop Removal by Michael O’Connell and Burning the Future by David Novack.
Coal Country looks “at both sides” more than any previous documentary and last night’s audience reflected this point of view. Randall Maggard, a local coal operator, was featured in the film. Maggard had the rare opportunity to say “his side” of the story — what mountaintop removal is all about, how it works, etc…
Coal Country succinctly and orderly examines the process of mountaintop removal coal mining, the tremendous life and health hardships endured by the Appalachian people who find these operations in their communities and the legal battle in various state courts over the issue. Viewers get to see Maggard, the coal operator, working on the job and reflecting at home.
Probably the most poignant moment in the film is the one few who follow the issue have seen either on the silver screen or in the pages of the Vanity Fairs and National Geographics – Maggard weeps while describing a conversation he’s had with his school-age daughter who receives an assignment to look at the devastation caused by the unprecendented mining process.
Executive Director Mari-Lyn Evans said that she found Maggard at the end of the film screening standing alone, off to the side, weeping again. Evans approached him to offer comfort and Maggard emphatically told Evans, “We have got to talk.”
According to Evans, Maggard approached 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Judy Bonds, who was featured in the film, and shook her hand, declaring that they must talk too.
Can a documentary film foment social change? It seems that Coal Country is the first to truly engage “both sides” in a discussion of the controversial coal mining process. Apparently Maggard has already begun to feel the wrath of the coal industry for even appearing in the film — a familiar consequence for those Appalachians who’ve been speaking out for their communities for years.