Bill Haney, Director, and Clara Bingham, Producer
Host, Jeff Biggers:
Although The Last Mountain film exposé on mountaintop removal mining opened in theaters across the country last month, its most important screening should take place at the White House Family Theater.
And then when the lights come up after President Obama has viewed the devastating film in the air-conditioned confines powered by coal-fired electricity strip-mined from the Appalachian mountains, he should have to turn and face West Virginia hero Maria Gunnoe, who warns the viewer: “Coal is mean, coal is cruel, coal kills… and every American has to find their position: You’re connected to coal whether whether you realize it or not.”
And nearly 34 years after President Jimmy Carter begrudgingly signed a watered-down federal law that sanctioned the failed regulatory policies for this reckless strip-mining, President Obama needs to take a position and abolish all mountaintop removal operations once and for all.
An epic portrait of one community’s long-time battle to take on Massey Energy lawlessness and their Big Coal sycophants in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, The Last Mountain just might be one of the most timely and game-changing films in years. Beautifully filmed, at once provocative and disquieting, The Last Mountain wonderfully captures the inspiring resistance and indefatigable campaigns of coal mining families — and their outside supporters — to stand up and defend their land and lives.
As a powerful and breathtaking addition to the treasury of film documentaries on mountaintop removal — the heartbreaking Before the Mountain Was Moved appeared in 1969, and recent portraits include On Coal River, Deep Down, Low Coal and Coal Country, among many others — The Last Mountain forces viewers to come to grips with an enduring crime.
In truth, mountaintop removal provides less than 5-8 percent of national coal production — it is not only unnecessary, but lethal. A process of literally blowing up mountains and nearby historic settlements with ammonium nitrate fuel oil explosives to reach the coal, mountaintop removal has led to the largest forced relocation of American citizens since the 19th century, gutted traditional underground and union coal mining jobs, and placed a stranglehold on any attempts at economic diversification, leaving the central Appalachian coalfields in ruin.
The widely documented irreversible and pervasive destruction of federally-protected waterways from mountaintop removal dumping takes place in West Virginia — and Kentucky, eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia. Other forms of strip-mining have ravaged millions of acres of forests, farms and historic communities in 20 other states.
Directed by Bill Haney and guided by the star power of environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., The Last Mountain expertly walks the viewer through the Coal River nightmare for residents living beneath a fallout blasting zone of fly rock, toxic silica and coal dust, the impact of erosion and flooding, and the deadly contamination of coal slurry on local water supplies.
In a brilliant juxtaposition, The Last Mountain shifts the viewers from the horror of strip-mining to explore the Coal River Wind campaign proposed by the local residents for a large-scale industrial wind farm that would have provided more jobs and tax revenues — and a chance for a just transition to clean energy production.
“They’re bound and determined to knock the mountain down,” legendary Coal River activist Bo Webb says, “and we’re bound and determined to stop them.”
At the end of this unforgettable film, the question lingers: Will the viewer — and President Obama — join Webb, Gunnoe and the legion of others in the coalfields across the United States, or will they simply turn their backs on this subversion of democracy and continue the great denial of coal’s staggering human and environmental costs?
Here’s the link to the trailer.
About Bill Haney: Described variably as a renaissance man, visionary and eco entrepreneur and award-winning filmmaker, Bill has directed or produced a number of amazing films on social and environmental issues, The Price of Sugar among them.
Here’s an interview during the Sundance film festival.
And here’s a 2008 interview that provides some good back story:
She just did this great piece on women activists on the coalfield frontlines in West Virgina.