'The Last Mountain': Blasting the practice of 'mountaintop removal' coal mining
"The Last Mountain," a documentary directed by Bill Haney, argues against the practice of "mountaintop removal" coal mining and features Robert Kennedy Jr. It's playing at Seattle's Varsity Theatre.
Seattle Times arts writer
'The Last Mountain' a documentary directed by Bill Haney. 95 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic material and brief language. Varsity. For an interview with Robert Kennedy Jr., see B5.
"If the American people could see this," says Robert Kennedy Jr., referring to what amounts to the carpet bombing of 500 West Virginia mountaintops by coal-mining companies, "there would be a revolution."
Maybe. But whether you agree with Kennedy or not before seeing "The Last Mountain," Bill Haney's documentary about a method of extracting coal that involves blowing up mountains — you would be hard-pressed to disagree with him afterward. The film presents a devastatingly airtight, dramatic argument.
Using his camera as a propaganda weapon, Haney contrasts panoramas of lush Appalachian forests and streams against footage of mountains exploding into the air, thanks to the 2,500 tons of explosives buried in them every day. Fountains of silica dust drift skyward, accumulating as a scummy layer on a local schoolhouse. "Hollows" are flooded thanks to soil erosion; the miners leave moonscapes behind.
Local residents talk of being displaced by floods and of family members dying at abnormally high rates from cancer, thanks to poisoned water supplies. In one of the more inspiring segments, locals combine with young activists in acts of civil disobedience.
Industry executives — notably from Massey Coal, a company that accumulated 60,000 environmental violations between 2000 and 2006 and brought you the Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 miners last year — are also given the floor. In a tense moment, Kennedy chats in a small-town coffee shop with Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, who laughingly refers to the devastated areas as "construction sites."
Fifty percent of America's electrical-energy needs come from coal, yet this film makes a very strong argument that the pollution, disease, death and environmental devastation are not worth the cost. The film ends by noting Canada has completely eliminated coal-fired plants.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or email@example.com
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