“Deep Down”: A community battle over proposed mountaintop removal coal mining


See this film if you can: “Deep Down,” a new documentary that premieres this week on PBS’s Independent Lens, is a portrait of a small mining community in Kentucky and its contentious internal division over the destructive policy of mountaintop removal. We’ve previewed it. It’s poignant, disturbing, uplifting, and gets right down to the grassroots. (First airing November 23; check local listings.)

“Deep Down” premieres on Tuesday, November 23, at 10:00 P.M (58 minutes).  Local schedules may vary. In the Washington, D.C. area, it is scheduled to air on Sunday, November 28, at 10:30 P.M. on WHUT, Maryland Public Television.

Deep Down film website

Companion website for Deep Down at Emmy award-winning Independent Lens has additional material on the film.  

About the film, from the websites:

The film explores the human impact of our voracious appetite for energy through the life of a small town where coal is king.

Beverly May and Terry Ratliff grew up like kin on opposite sides of a mountain ridge in eastern Kentucky. Now in their 50s, the two find themselves in the midst of a debate dividing their community and the world: who controls, consumes, and benefits from our planet’s shrinking supply of natural resources?

At issue is the practice of mountaintop removal mining, in which explosives are used to blow up mountaintops, exposing the seams of coal underneath while destroying communities, cultures, traditions and lives along the way.

While Beverly organizes her neighbors to stop a coal mining company from advancing into her hollow, Terry considers signing away the mining rights to his backyard — a decision that could destroy both of their homes. Their once-peaceful mountain community of Maytown finds itself in the center of a contentious battle over energy and the wealth and environmental destruction it represents.

The policy of mountaintop removal mining often divides communities like Maytown, where neighbors have existed peacefully for generations.  While the mining companies provide much-needed jobs in areas with severe economic challenges, they also force people to make the choice between income and the health and safety of their communities. Through the richly nuanced story of Beverly May and Terry Ratliff, Deep Down explores issues of environment, economics, and public policy and culture, revealing the devastating impact of our energy consumption against an explosive backdrop: Appalachia’s centuries-old struggle over the black rock that fuels our planet….

Quotes in the film from people in the community:

“All of us in coal-producing communities, we know what the real cost of electricity is.”

“And when you say coal is the only job we have – why is coal the only job we have? You would have thought after 100 years it would have brought some prosperity into this region, instead of destruction.”

“This is the side of capitalism that’s not very pretty. This is America.”

“You don’t regulate an abomination – you stop it.”

“Imagine — a society that is dependent on blowing up mountain after mountain after mountain. That there’s a group of people who decide to stand up against it – that is exceptional.”

“Floyd County is a little more democratic than it was two days ago. Even though it’s a radical thing to challenge a coal company, we did it.”

Earlier posts:

Hansen joins Appalachia Rising mountaintop removal coal protest, 100 arrested at White House

Condemnation of mountaintop removal coal mining: A good example of citizen-scientist action

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2 Responses to “Deep Down”: A community battle over proposed mountaintop removal coal mining

  1. We watched this last night and copied it to our DVR to show others who will be coming by in the near future. Very good film that looked at this insanity from many different veiwpoints.
    My wife and I own and operate our own online radio show and we have followed and supported the battle against MRM since the beginning of our show. we WILL WIN this WAR!!!! MRM will GO AWAY in my lifetime!!!

  2. I will certainly catch “Deep Down” — it sounds like precisely the sort of educational material we need to share widely, to shout from the mountaintops, so to speak. I’d like to make another recommendation — a documentary film called On Coal River This film is still in the “film festival” touring stage, hasn’t yet been picked up for larger distribution or a TV airing. But — producers Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood are excited about the film being nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Award, in the category: “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.” The winners will be announced this Wed November 29 in New York City! Fingers and toes crossed for my new friends Francine and Adams — this film really deserves to be acknowledged and picked up by movie distribution houses, shown on HBO, available on Amazon, etc. As the new Executive Director of the Maryland-DC-Virginia chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association (www.mdv-seia.org), and host of our annual conference on November 12, as one of our featured events we played the film to an audience of conference attendees and managed to pull off a live, virtual Q&A with the filmmakers. We plan to host events like this again in various DC area locations throughout the next few months, so stay tuned! Also — many kudos go to the Reverend Billy (www.revbilly.org) for all the excellent grassroots organizing and creative protesting that has put the pressure on financiers of MTR to back out: e.g. Chase Manhattan no longer underwrites mountain top removal and I suspect “the Rev” and his placing of mini-mountain-tops in bank lobbies all across NYC played a significant role in that. Also hats off to Dr. James Hansen who has tirelessly advocated for a transition away from deadly dirty coal. Lastly, I am sad to report that Judy Bonds, director of Coal River Mountain Watch and a fierce opponent of MTR and the way the coal mining corporate power has decimated her community and much of West Virginia (and featured in On Coal River), is dying of cancer. Her cancer was likely caused, in large part, by her exposure to the many toxins in the environment from these hideous practices. A nice bio of Judy can be found here

    On this Thanksgiving holiday, I also want to take a moment to express gratitude, appreciation, and heartfelt thanks to Rick Piltz for his consistent and highly constructive set of contributions to the evolving discourse around global climate disruption, its consequences for us all, and the importance of honesty and integrity in the reporting of scientific findings. Thank you, Rick, for all of your dedication and hard work, for having the courage to become a whistleblower in 2005, and for being unafraid to “speak truth to power.” Keep up the good work!

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