Friday, October 13, 2006

Composer "B" is a godsend - Raz Mesinai

His name is Raz Mesinai. I am thrilled that Raz will be doing the score for the film. He and I share a host of ideas for creating sounds out of ordinary things. As a basis for scenes involving water, we will make tones from large glasses filled with water. To connect to the earth, we will use rhythms and native american sounds. To capture the churning of the industry night and day, we will pulsate. And we will go to acoustic instruments to depict the positive connection between nature and people. It will be ecclectic for sure, but it will also unify the film into a solid work. I am charged up!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Composer "A" - bad idea

After two weeks of negotiating and finalizing a contract with composer "A", he has informed me that he won't be available for several MONTHS. But I need a rough score in 6 weeks. I wish he had disclosed this earlier in our negotiations, saving both time and legal expense. I'm going to call composer "B" - instinct says it is all for the better.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Finding the Composer

I've spoken to two composers - we'll call them "A" and "B". I liked them both over the phone. There's something about "A" that I think will make communication easier. Also, he has a bit more of a rock and pop feel, which is more what I believe I want for the film. And he can write a real "song" if I need one. Then again, there is something about "B" that is compelling, almost haunting. He is a composer of a different ilk. While he does film scores, he also does professional avant guard composition. But I'm not sure I can communicate as well with him. Or that he can produce a soundtrack that isn't simply avant guard or tonal sounds. Tough choice. I'm going with "A".

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MTR Aftermath - what is left.

Mining companies are supposed to "reclaim" the land. This means that, according to law, they are to restore it to equal or better use than before.

What is left atop these MTR sites? As one University of Kentucky biologist described to me, it is the most unproductive ecological environment one could imagine. The soil is compacted blasted rock, not real topsoil. So it doesn't retain water very well. As a result, only drought-resistant species can thrive - which means importing plants from elsewhere in the country and the globe. The tall hardwoods and fertile understory that were once home to the American chestnut, dozens of invertebrates, mosses, mushrooms, ginger, dozens of medicinal plants and is all gone and can not return in any conceivable amount of time. Dr. Ben Stout from Wheeling Jesuit University states, "a forest will grow here in a millennium, but it will never be like the ancestral hardwood forest that once stood here."

Some sites are "improved" with an airport strip (how many residents in the coalfields would you guess can afford a private plane?), a prison, a school that had to be closed because of a shifting foundation, a golf course (which can only serve coal company executives), and a Wal-Mart. Improvement is definitely a subjective notion.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What is Mountaintop Removal? (MTR)

Coal exists in the mountains of Appalachia like layers in a cake, with solid rock between the layers. A traditional mine is made of tunnels in the earth created by taking out the coal. But in order to prevent a collapse of the mountain, sections of coal are left untouched and in the upper reaches of the mountains, the higher layers are often not mined at all.

The coal industry figured out that if they could just REMOVE the mountain from the top, exposing the coal, they could extract it all - cheaply, and with better safety standards for miners. So.....

Step 1 - Clear cut the trees. Here, natures bounty of high and low-growth vegetation, with the rich diversity of the temperate forest and understory, is simply removed. It is supposed to be "harvest" but is almost always simply cut, piled, and pushed off the steep slopes into the valleys below.

Step 2 - Blasting. Millions of tons of explosives are set deep within the layer of rock that sits above the coal seam. This rock is BLASTED. (see the trailer for a visual).

Step 3 - Valley Fill - The loose rock is disposed of, pushed off the steep slopes into the valleys below and compacted into what is called a "valley fill" - a terraced wall of compacted earth with little structural integrity. Often a "drag line" is employed to move large sections of earth with its huge shove, the size of a large home.

Step 4 - Coal harvest - the exposed coal seam is scooped up with bulldozers and carted off for chemical processing at a nearby plant.

Step 5 - Blasting. The next layer of rock now needs to be removed and the process begins again.

Thus, minimal labor results in maximum coal extraction. Unfortunately, it is also maximum damage to the environment. Today, about 40% of the coal extracted in West Virginia is mined in this manner...and growing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Birth of an Idea for a Film

A friend of mine had brought me to Kentucky to show me what he called "an atrocity of industry." It's amazing, and quite disturbing. Imagine flying in a helicopter through the verdant valleys of the tightly-rippled Appalachian mountains. The variety of hardwood trees and rich undergrowth is unparalleled anywhere outside of the tropical rainforest. With the window open, the smells of earth permeate the air and you can understand why the "hillbillies" of yore, who were planning to travel beyond the mountains, chose to stay.

The copter flies up through the valley and, as the valley becomes thinner, has to climb. But as the propellered bird swoops above the highest trees, what unfolds before your eyes is a vast lunar landscape as far as the eyes can see. This is a mountaintop-removal coal mining site, where 600 acres of pristine forest have been not only denuded, but leveled. It is going on throughout the coal mining regions of Appalachia, to the tune of at least 600 THOUSAND ACRES so far, and accelerating. These sites can be seen from outer space. Go to GoogleEarth, look at southern West Virginia and South East Kentucky and you will easily find them - and who knows how old those images are.

More later on what mountain-top removal is, why we need so much coal, and the host of environmental and human impacts of this and all forms of coal mining and combustion.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What to do about coal

This is the first entry tracking the making of the documentary film, American Coal. I, the filmaker, will record my evolving impressions here, with an opportunity for readers to post responses. As the film nears completion, I hope you all will be a part of carving the point of view of the film. I can't do this alone.

Monday, May 01, 2006

52% of our electricity???!!! From Coal????

As my Russian friend always says... "can you believe it?" In this day and age, over HALF of all electricity consumed in the United States comes from Coal-fired power plants. It's like a dirty secret. Coal is not of the Victorian era. It is not a relic from the industrial revolution. Coal is here, and it is now, and it is as part of American society today as it has ever been. The difference today is that we have moved the "dirty" aspects of coal to where they are either far away or invisible:
  1. Extraction - the mountains of Appalachia are simply being obliterated.
  2. Heavy Metals - the dangerous metals that exist both in the coal and in the surrounding rock that has been blasted works its way into ground water, poisoning streams, rivers, and folks who have no choice but to drink contaminated well water.
  3. Sulfur/Nitrogen - at the power plant, sulfur and nitrogen are released into the upper atmosphere where they combine with other gases and moisture to produce acid rain. Coal-fired power plants in the Midwest are the source of all the acid rain that plagues the northeastern US.
  4. Mercury - at the power plant, mercury is released into the atmosphere and ends up in lakes and fish. Most states have banned the eating of lake fish due to mercury content. Bigger fish eat these fish and the mercury works its way up the food chain and out to the oceans. We are now warned that pregnant women should not eat large game fish, which all have high levels of mercury...all from coal-fired power plants.
  5. Fine Particulate Matter - there is soot in the atmosphere from these power plants. It is too small to see, but we know that 50,000 people a year die from respiratory and heart conditions caused by fine particulate matter. Though coal-fired plants are not the only source for this, they are a very significant one.
  6. Anyone want to add?