Saturday, December 06, 2008

BTF - Wins IDA Pare Lorentz Award

We are so pleased to announce that BTF has won the Int'l Doc Ass'n Pare Lorentz award for socially-relevant filmmaking. Not only does this bode well for exposure of the film in the long run, but more importantly, it means the message is being heard! I owe infinite gratitude to everyone in the film who let me into their lives and entrusted me with their story.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

DVD's Ship This Week!

I am pleased to announce that the new DVD's ship this week!  The Burning the Future DVD contains a DVD-ROM section called the "Coal Impact Guide."  Pop the DVD into your computer and you will have access to tons of information to dig deeper after viewing the film.  Learn the impact that coal has on YOUR life, and decide what your impact will be.  Complete with House Party Toolkit and Instructions, share the DVD with friends and encourage them to do the same.

Together, We Can Do This.

And thank you to the hundreds of folks who have ordered the DVD in advance.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rivetting Essay on the MTR War in WV

Bob Kincaid, host of Head-on-Radio Network ( has offered this poignant essay. It cuts to the heart of the conflict in the coalfields, between miners and those working to protect the mountains and the communities around them - a conflict propogated by coal companies and shrouded in fear. Bob graciously permitted me to post it here.

I live in Fayette County, West Virginia, the heart and soul of West Virginia’s whitewater rafting tourism industry. Thousands and thousands of people come here every year to raft the New and Gauley Rivers. They roar down gorges as old as the earth itself, past the ghost towns that are all that’s left of the mine wars of a century ago; towns where Mary Harris “Mother” Jones worked to organize the slaves of the coal industry: Thurmond and Glen Jean and Brooklyn and Cunard and Hawks Nest and Prince and McKendree; places that are little more than wide mossy spots by the riverside, with a few squared stones marking where entire generations played out. These are the Dodge Citys and Tombstones of Appalachia.

If asked, most folks would tell you that the days of the mine wars are a long gone piece of West Virginia’s violent past. Most folks would be wrong. I saw on Saturday, April 5 that the past is never so far away that we can’t see it come to life before our eyes. There’s a war going on in West Virginia again, only the combatants have changed a bit.

A hundred years ago, when my Great-grandfather was mining coal in these hills, he and his folks understood that human dignity required a community to stand together against the coal bosses who treated them like slaves. They knew they were slaves and resented it. A lot of blood got spilled, but in the end, the coal miners of the early twentieth century won the right to form a union, be paid a living wage (in actual U.S. cash, no less), have health care and a pension for their old age; but you probably know all that.

Anyway, about fifty folks from my hometown went up on Gauley Mountain Saturday for an event termed a “Blessing of the Mountain.” See, the mountain in question is presently in the early stages of its execution. A coal company has gotten a permit to utterly destroy the mountain right up to the boundary of the New River Gorge National River, all in the name of seams of coal that are sometimes as thin as six inches. The company controls 18,000 acres or more that almost completely encircle my town. The mountain’s drainages are the Gauley and New Rivers themselves. The coal company has begun the process of blasting the mountain to death from the top down. Here at my home about four miles from the site, we already hear the distant rumbles, like bombs going off, as the blasting of Gauley Mountain proceeds.

Like I said, that mountain’s been mined before. Like all played-out coal mines, it’s full of water. Heaven help the mariner when some blast breaks the mountain open and sends those millions (if not billions) of gallons hurtling down onto our HeadStart Center right before it washes the rest of our town and its people down the creek and into the New River. By the way: the coal company owns the HeadStart Center’s property, so HeadStart won’t even complain about little poor kids being the first to go. See how it works?

We drove up the winding mountain road, intending to go up to the scene of the crime. Where the road turns to rock and dirt, we found it had been barred by the Company, and a hastily spray-painted “No Trespassing” sign erected on steel cable crossing the road. The Episcopal priests who were leading the worship service weren’t fazed. They began setting up to hold the service where we were. Prayers for Justice, after all, being prayers, can reach the ears of the Almighty whether those doing the praying are standing over the victim’s bleeding heart or standing at her feet. So the fifty or so of us prepared for the little service that was planned. Folks passed around flyers with the Order of Worship. Photocopied song lyrics were passed around in lieu of hymnals. My three children and I stood together among the assembled congregants.

That’s when everything changed. Charging around the further curve came a couple of four-wheelers, roaring up the road past our group. Immediately following them were all manner of vehicles (mostly pick-up trucks). Out of the vehicles poured what looked like the majority of the coal company’s demolition crew, along with their wives and even some of their children. They were all clad in identical sky-blue t-shirts with a logo on the back and the slogan “Protect An Endangered Species- Save a Coal Miner” or some such corporate drivel. They deliberately blocked our little group in between the mouth of the road and the No Trespassing barrier, like some group of penned animals they planned to slaughter just like the animals that die when they push the filth from their “mining” into the valley below.

Since we’re fairly new to having our homes attacked by Mountain Top Removal here in my neck of Fayette County, some of us were surprised at the show of force. I checked with my friends down in the Southern WV Coal Fields, however, and they said it’s a typical company tactic. Here’s what happens: the coal company tells its people that the Evil Environmentalists (who, they’re told, love trees, fish and numerous species of snails more than people) are trying to take away their jobs. The bosses tell their people that America can’t have electricity without blowing the hell out of the oldest mountains on the planet. The company people are told that they’re actually even “patriots.” They get some spiffy new t-shirts and are told, not asked, to take the wife and kids to help intimidate the “Environmental Wackos.” Failure to do so can mean one of these peoples’ jobs.

Of course, the bosses DON’T tell their people that as quick as the last seam has been scraped from the earth, as soon as they’ve pushed the last bit of mountaintop over into the valley that is my home and killed every living thing that walks, creeps, swims, hops or crawls, the Company will be gone like all companies do when the seams play out. They don’t tell their “associates” that two or three spins of the Wall Street roulette wheel will reduce those much-vaunted “profit sharing plans” to the value of your Great-granny’s cache of Civil War Bank of Richmond Confederate notes. Nope. All those pathetic company people hear is that “Coal Keeps The Lights On.” All they know is that as long as they keep up the bombing, the paychecks keep coming.

As the mountaintop removers swarmed up the little dirt road in their bid to intimidate a couple of priests and a bunch of mostly fifty- and sixty-something activists, I looked at my own kids (14, 12 and 11). I told them “Kids, these people are more to be pitied than despised. They’re slaves. They don’t even have the freedom to wear their own clothes. See? On the job and off, they have to wear what the Company tells them. They go where the Company tells them to go. They say what the Company tells them to say. They’re not even allowed to think for themselves.” Amid shouts of “Turn your lights off, then!” and “Coal keeps your lights on!” from the company people, my kids looked at me and nodded in understanding. One of them said, “Go talk to them, Daddy.”

It was what I call an “Atticus Finch” moment: a moment when a parent can’t do anything but be straight with his kids, knowing that everything he’s tried to teach them before hangs in the balance. “I can’t talk to them, baby. They’re past learning. They’re past comprehending the harm they’re doing. They’re hurting themselves and their own children with what they do, and they don’t even care. They’re slaves. Slaves live in fear of the Master. Nothing I can say can take away the fear their Master has put into them. They think the only thing in the world they’re capable of is dynamiting our mountains so they can have a payday.”

I didn’t have to say any more. My spoken lesson was interrupted by a much more visceral one. The service started, with Father Roy leading the call and response. My kids learned the truth as the company people snickered and guffawed as the priest said “We invite the mountains to worship with us” and the people responded “Deep forests, babbling brooks and clear mountain streams.”

The cat-calls and jeering rose to outright mockery when, responding to the priest’s confession that “We remember and confess that we have become alienated from the earth. . . ” the people replied with “We have polluted rivers with waste from mountain mines . . . We are sorry.” Forced laughter rose from the people who were paid and threatened to compel their attendance. More cries of “Coal keeps the lights on” and “Turn off your lights.” As it turned out, the company people knew their catechism far better than we did ours.

Undaunted, the priests continued on. There was some singing. Then Father Stan moved into his homily. He began preaching facts about mountaintop removal. Some of the company wives ratcheted the tension up, beginning to scream at the priest. They hollered “stop lying” as he described the toxic effects of mountaintop removal.

When Father Stan got into the meat of his homily, a short, squat company man came storming down from the Company’s hastily-erected, makeshift gate, yelling at the priest all the way. “I worship the same god you do,” he cried, as though addressing some be-robed shaman from an alien, distant land, “but I ain’t gonna let you tell these lies! Who’s gonna feed my family? Who’s gonna send my kids to college,” never managing to identify just what “lies” had slain him in the Spirit. Suffice to say, at no time had any of us suggested his children starve for want of either food or education. That bit of mendacity had come, of course, straight from corporate HQ.

People around the man gently explained to him, “Sir, this is a worship service.” It didn’t matter. The company people had managed to put an end to it. They began hollering their same, tired, chants of “Coal Keeps the Lights On” like some holy, soul-saving mantra, and waving their “Friends of Coal” placards like pieces of the True Cross. A company wife standing in the bed of a pick-up truck began squealing again about putting her children through college and what she apparently thought was her husband’s constitutional right to destroy anything upon which he set his eye, as long as they made a nice living at it; as long as it came with a new truck every couple of years, some clothes and a big screen TV from some slave-labor sweatshop in China.

At the height of the tension, a clear, pure voice rang out among us. One of our folks sent “Amazing Grace” onto the air. It was quickly picked up by the rest of us, silencing the coal people.

Once it was clear that the service would go no further, that Almighty God would no longer be implored to save our community from mountaintop removal, the company people seemed content.

It looks like the mine wars are on again here in West Virginia. Those of us who are struggling to save our communities are committed to principles of non-violence, emulating Dr. King, the fortieth anniversary of whose murder had passed only the day before this confrontation. The company people, however, have shown their hand. Kept in the depths of pitiful ignorance darker than any of the underground mines in which my Great-granddaddy, Granddaddy and Daddy labored, they will bluster, scream, shout, intimidate, threaten and perhaps engage in actual violence to protect not themselves, but their Masters. That’s the saddest part of this whole tableau: these people are so far gone down Big Coal’s toxic garden path that they don’t realize we’re struggling for their children’s future every bit as much as we are for our own.

As I looked at the company wives in attendance, smirking, cat-calling, hooting and hollering, I couldn’t help recalling a statistic that stays on my mind: because of all the mercury coal has put into our lives, every company wife there, like my own wife, and my own daughters, had within her body enough mercury to ensure that every child she bears will suffer at least a ten point IQ deficit. Her very breast milk contains enough mercury to qualify as toxic waste under the EPA’s own standards. Her husband’s proximity to the blasting, not to mention the poisons he’s forced to work with, in and around, promises a tormented old age, if the couple have mind enough left to comprehend it. Yet, that gray April Saturday in the oldest mountains on earth, she saw me as the enemy.

After they left Pharaoh’s bondage and ran into some tough sledding in the desert, it’s said that a great number of the Children of Israel preferred a return to Pharaoh and his three-hots-and-a-cot. The preacher in Ecclesiastes said “There is nothing new under the sun.” I reckon he was right.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sundance Channel - Television Premiere!

On Tuesday, May 13th at 9:35, Burning the Future: Coal in America will have its National Television Premiere on The Sundance Channel. Please check local cable/satellite service to make sure Sundance Channel is included in your tier of service.

BTF will be played as part of their "The Green" series of eco-focused films, shorts and other media. It will play three times that week, and again during re-run seasons of "The Green."

Please watch the film and post a review on Sundance Channel's website - linked above and:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thoughts on the W.V. Premiere

I brought my kids. They sat, side by side, with kids their age. Kids who have been fighting for clean water and against mountaintop removal. My daughter sat with Donetta Blankenship's daughter - who in the film cries as her mother leaves her overnight for the first time ever, on her way to the United Nations to take a stand. That morning 3 years ago when I filmed at Donetta's home, the her kids were frightened and ill. Now, her daughter sits with mine. They'd both straightened their hair, put on a little too much make up as teenagers do, and sat down to watch the film. They could have been two friends going to the mall together. It's a constant reminder that kids are kids, and people are people, and what divides us is so petty when compared to what brings us together.

The screening went very well. We schlepped hi-def gear from NY to give the brightest, clearest picture possible. Boy....independent filmmaking at its best...playing projectionist as well. It was SO worth it.

The Q &A was spectacular. But what touched me the most was the response when I reiterated that there are groups all over the country who are fighting coal-fired power plants. It made the folks in WV understand that their battle is part of a larger war, and that they aren't alone. Spontaneous applauds and tears made it all hit home.

I'm a lucky and changed man to have spent all these years outside of my Brooklyn box and out in the world with my friends in West Virginia.

Next day, I took the kids into the woods for a hike. We came across an old mine from the 20's and picked lumps of coal off the trail. The spring air was rejuvenating with wildflowers and trees in bloom. It was a piece of the real West Virgina, the one that has to be preserved.

I didn't let them drink the water.

Monday, April 21, 2008

West Virginia Premiere - EARTH DAY

Coming full circle this week as I bring Burning the Future: Coal in America to West Virginia for its first public screening in the coal fields.

West Virginia International Film Festival
WVSC Capitol Center Theater
123 Summers Street, Charleston
Tuesday, April 22nd at 6:30.

I have been looking forward to this event, and I hope to see folks from "all sides of the many aisles" that make up public opinion and discourse in West Virginia. I will be on hand for Questions & Answers after the screening, and would love to have a great debate. That's what the film is for - to challenge everyone's thinking on the issues.

Hope to see as many West Virginian's as possible there!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

DVD Update - Ready for Purchase SOON

The DVD has been held up a few weeks. Why? Because we are developing an incredibly powerful "Coal Impact Guide" - a sort of "Everything you've ever wanted to know about coal, mountaintop removal, slurry, powerplants, emissions, health effects, and what YOU CAN DO about it." This will be a ROM portion on the DVD, so after you watch the film and the 4 short films that make up the video extras, pop the DVD into your computer and go for a self-guided tour through the Coal Impact Guide.

I look forward to feedback of all sorts, especially on the Coal Impact Guide. There will be an online version of the guide, so it will evolve over time.

The DVD's will be for sale - AT THE LATEST - by May 13th. I am hoping that they will be ready a week earlier.

Monday, April 07, 2008

AFI/Dallas Film Festival

This week, Burning the Future screened at the AFI/Dallas International Film Festival. What a terrific ride. Audiences were packed and the Q&A's were very lively. It was particularly interesting to be in Texas - the state the burns more coal in power plants than any other in America, AND generates more wind power than any state in America! What a great dichotomy in a great state.

I hope this leads to AFI/Los Angeles in the Fall. Keep posted for more screening information.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

DVD goes on sale in a month!!!

Late in March, there will be different versions of the dvd be available for purchase on the website,

The institutional version will contain robust teaching guides and a license to display the film within the institution. This version will be distributed by The Video Project, a premier educational media distribution company.

A consumer version will be available as well directly from the website. It will be a very rich resource, with a DVD-ROM section filled called the "Coal Impact Guide." This will contain important materials to round out the viewers' education and help them to dig even deeper.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NYC and LA Premieres!!!!

On February 29th, Burning the Future: Coal in America will premiere at the Landmark Sunshine Theater in NYC for a one-week run! We will have Q & A sessions after the early evening showings on Friday and Saturday, and after matinees on Sunday. During the following week, we will provide Q&A sessions after any screening which a local high school or middle school attends.

I am very excited about this new and rapid development. Please look for reviews in the papers and spread the word!

Tickets will be available on the Landmark Theater website, or...

On March 7th, BTF will have its West Coast premiere, also for a one-week run! Exact theater and times to be determined. I will update as soon as possible.