One of the great aspects of the 2nd San Francisco Green Film Festival, March 1-7, 2012 lies in the eclectic lineup of enviro, sustinable, green based films. The varied selections come from other regions that might not be on the general green radar. On Coal River would be one of those deeply environmental films that register emotionally strong notes by way of West Virginia.
A few of us viewed On Coal River which that takes place in the bucolic mountain area of Coal River Valley which immediately brings us into a David and Goliath struggle with the town residents confronting the notorious Massey Energy (the same Massey Energy that had the coal mining disaster on April 5, 2010).
Directors Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood take a back roads approach for the footage and back-story. The films smartly keys on some of the more active residents and colorful residents who have either been coal miners or know coal miners. The film makers go out of there way to show how coal mining (or rather mountaintop removal) continues to be a vital aspect to the economy (although they point out that the percentage of miners sits significantly lower that in past years) but many people believe that this business has also become a toxic and environmental liability for local residents.
The film focuses on several local community members who like to call themselves hillbillies but also educated hillbillies. In the forefront stands former miner Ed Wiley an activist/environmentalist who fights the good fight to get people to recognize that their local elementary school where their children attend should be recognized as an environmental hazard. The filmmakers capture the passionate and emotional Wiley spearheading protest efforts, leading educational meetings as well as him walking from West Virginia to Washington DC to raise awareness and get his point across.
On Coal River does a great service by not creating an overly polished film, and by sticking to capturing real emotion. The rough footage works well to demonstrate that people will fight for an environmental cause in states other than west coast states. It offers some insight into what the other people who support Massey (mostly people concerned with the local economic concerns if they fight Massey) but the film doesn’t get any official response from the energy giant. Did Massey officials decline to be interviewed for this film? Although the focus on the school offers a solid storyline and a hot topic, the film might have added some additional conclusion and information about the polluted water supply and toxic health conditions. What good is it to have a new school when the water supply and air remain poisoned for the whole town?
Despite some loose threads, it is great to see an emotionally charged environmental film where David wears a hillbilly hat.
ON COAL RIVER
Francine Cavanaugh, 81 min, USA
Sat 3/3 – 3:30pm