Mountaintop removal coal mining not only affects the mountains; it affects communities and relationships in them. This was the resounding message that I took from Deep Down: A Story from the Heart of Coal Country, a documentary by Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin. This film followed the story of Maytown, Kentucky, where a coal company tried to start a mountaintop removal operation in 2007. The film focuses on one resident’s struggle to decide whether to lease his land to the coal company and another resident’s leadership role in the community’s attempt to stop the mine through a “Lands unsuitable for mining” petition. Through this story, the film educates viewers about the impacts of mountaintop removal, the practice that has demolished over 470 mountains in Appalachia and has buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams.
The documentary succeeds in putting a human face to mountaintop removal mining. It showcases the divides that the mountaintop removal debate caused in the community, and the struggles that residents went through to save their community – both the physical land and the relationships that tie the community together.
Different views of the meaning of “dominion” from Genesis Chapter 1 came up repeatedly in the film. Does dominion mean that God gave us resources to exploit and use to our liking, no matter the harm to the earth, or are we to see dominion in a caretaking sense? Though this is not the central theme of the film, this will provide a backdrop for congregations to have a fruitful discussion of what it means to have dominion over the earth.
According to the film, 92% of the electricity in Kentucky, my home state, and 50% of the country’s electricity comes from coal. Deep Down makes a compelling call for us all to examine our reliance on coal and the way we are using resources.
To learn more about Deep Down, visit the film’s website. There you can find out how to host a community screening, learn more about mountaintop removal, and find organizations that work on mountaintop removal issues.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, an organization featured in the film, offers Mountain Witness Tours for people who want to see the effects of mountaintop removal first hand. I took the pictures aboveon a similar visit to Whitesburg, KY in October 2009.
(Recently I was contacted by the faith outreach coordinator for the documentary Deep Down to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the film for the Eco-Journey blog. Having seen press about the film, I was eager to review it once I received a loaned review copy.)