U.S. anti-coal film shows painful reality of mountaintop mining

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 3, 2011 8:35 EDT
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LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A new film protesting against US coal mining and starring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. aims to boost green alternatives such as wind power and highlight “criminal” destruction by the industry.

Five years after “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s landmark movie about climate change, makers of “The Last Mountain” hope the documentary will engage viewers through the story of a Virginia community threatened by “Big Coal.”

“‘An Inconvenient Truth’ woke up the world to the dangers of climate change, in a way that it hadn’t been awoken before,” said director Bill Haney.

But “what you as individuals can do to challenge the interests that be, that are creating this problem .. it did not do,” he told AFP, saying that he would be happy if his movie was as successful as former US vice president Gore’s.

The film opens Friday in New York and Washington and will be released in other US cities in the coming weeks.

The movie tells the story of a community in West Virginia’s Appalachian mountains taking on Massey Energy, one of the biggest coal producers in the US, trying to stop its practice of mountain-top removal to mine coal seams.

Kennedy, a member of the storied US political family and a long-time environmental activist, is shown joining protestors in the Coal River Valley as they fight to preserve their health and the local environment.

“I was a little reluctant to get involved with doing a film just because I was more attuned to other kinds of advocacy and really didn’t know much about filmmaking,” Kennedy said, describing his initial reaction to the project.

But after meeting Haney he decided he could “articulate the link between democracy and environment,” and help fight Massey in West Virginia, where he has long been involved.

“Virtually this entire industry is a criminal enterprise, and I don’t say that lightly,” he told AFP.

Perhaps surprisingly, the movie gives relatively generous time to mining bosses and workers, asserting how vital the industry is for jobs in tough economic times.

Haney contrasts his movie with more directly polemical documentaries like those of Michael Moore, including “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and the health services movie “Sicko.”

“I really respect Michael Moore’s filmmaking and his talent, but he clearly is making polemics. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just saying that’s what they are. That’s not what I do,” he said.

While much of the film follows the protests — including tree-top demonstrators and campaigners against the health impact on a local school — it also shows people developing alternatives, such as building wind turbines.

Kennedy argues that the coal industry is, ultimately, unsustainable without political help.

“If we had a true free market, coal couldn’t function in the marketplace. It’s just too expensive. And oil couldn’t function. If we had to pay at the pump for the war in Iraq, we’d be off oil overnight.”

Kennedy also draws comparisons with last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which took place during the editing of the film.

“It’s the same story, different place,” he said.

Haney cited US authorities as saying the spill, blamed on British oil giant BP, was the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the country.

“But Massey has spilled twice that amount of … waste, and not into the deep ocean and salt water where it disperses, but into the nation’s rivers, fresh water supplies. So if that’s the worst, is Massey twice the worst?

“It did give us a perspective to help the public, which has seen tremendous media coverage of BP’s oil spill and very little coverage of this coal stuff.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
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