Friday, April 27, 2012

Burning the Future: Coal in America

Release Date: 2008
Director: David Novack
Run time: 56 minutes for PBS version (89 minutes full length)
Seen on: PBS, see website for Airdates in your area, Available on Netflix DVD
Recommended: YES.  And then turn off some lights.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

The first thing I did when watching this documentary was turn off an extra light.  Look around you.  Do you have too many lights on in your house?  If so, please stop and turn some of them off.  SERIOUSLY, get UP and turn off a light.  I'll wait.




OK, done?  Thanks.  And I am sure the people of West Virginia thank you too.  Burning the Future aired last week on PBS in its shortened format.  This doc takes a look at coal mining in West Virginia.  Deep mining of coal has gone on in the Appalachians for generations.  Coal has fueled our country.  However, deep mining takes time.  They have now frequently changed to the practice of mountaintop removal or strip mining.  Strip mining removes the rock at the top of mountains to expose the coal seams near the surface.  This practice obliterates the environment.  It moves entire mountains, takes out the useful coal, and fills in valleys.

This documentary does not have much animation, graphics, or even elaborate text.  After watching numerous documentaries over the past few months, I sometimes find my attention waning if there is not a great production value.  Although this doc did not have elaborate production, it drew me in.  I was drawn in by the stories of people whose families have lived there for generations upon generations.  They love their homes and want to stay there.  But they are being poisioned by the water coming out of their pipes and the air that they breathe. 

Neighbors are pitted against neighbors.  There are people employed by the coal companies who oppose the stopping the mining.  But their neighbors are sick and dying.  The water coming out of their pipes is contaminated with sludge and runoff.  They have to buy their own water or are forced to know they are getting sick from it.  West Virginia has some of the greatest natural resources, but also has some of the poorest people in the world.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Not just in the US, but some of the poorest people in the world.

As I have said before, the best documentaries engage you.  They pique your interest and even enrage you.  Although I was not sold on this rough looking documentary to begin with, I am now.  WATCH THIS DOCUMENTARY.  Think about what you use and where it comes from.  There are people sick and dying because of the coal companies.  Coal companies consider it "collateral damage" to provide people with the high standard of living they are accustomted to.  One of the interviewees says it best, that he is not "collateral damage."  He is a human being. 

This documentary forces you to consider the lives of people far from you, but intrinsicially linked to yours.  Coal production in West Virginia powers large parts of the country.  So watch this documentary, think about what you use, and then turn off some lights already.

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