Sundance Festival's Eco-films Climb "The Last Mountain"


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at Coal River mountaintop removal protest. Photos courtesy Uncommon Productions

"Explosive power the size of a Hiroshima bomb once a week," Robert F. Kennedy Jr. described mountaintop coal mining at a West Virginia rally to stop Massey Coal from reducing The Last Mountain to ash. It's from a scene in the documentary by filmmaker Bill Haney (Price of Sugar), at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival -- one of only a few environmental docs playing the annual Park City, Utah, event. The Last Mountain takes a scarring look at coal mining and might make a difference.
"Coal is mean." The effects of mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia.
Robert Redford's independent and documentary film fest opened this weekend and goes through January 30th, programming documentaries such as Morgan Spurlock's branding expose The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, an in-depth look at physician-assisted suicide, a portrait of Project Nim about chimp communication, and a view of the Earth Liberation Front.

The premiere party for The Last Mountain featured a performance by environmentalist KT Tunstall and activist Harry Belafonte whose daughter lives in West Virginia.

If we use electricity, we're probably using coal, so we all have a stake in this issue, The Last Mountain sets forth. It shows activists and residents standing up to the industry and the deleterious effects of mountaintop coal removal: contamination of the air, soil and water in West Virginia, coal dust and toxic sludge -- not to mention the destruction of Appalachia's mountains.

At Sundance in 2009, The Cove not only won the Audience Award, it put a spotlight on dolphin slaughter. This year's film could have the same effect of raising awareness with its examination about preserving the Appalachia region's natural resources and the threats to the Coal River Valley residents and our environment. Looks like more legislation could ban the practice.

The images of lush landscape offer a great contrast to the mountains of rubble remains and the compelling stories of off-the-charts brain cancer cases provide a strong case about the toxic effects. The film also demonstrates the politics behind the protests hitting deaf ears. But with the recent EPA ruling to ban a mountaintop coal mine, perhaps the efforts are making a difference. Take a look at the trailer:

Also screening is Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology by director Tiffany Shlain which creatively addresses the environment, consumption, population growth, technology, human rights, and the global economy to paint a portrait of the beauty and tragedy of human endeavor.

And If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front by director Marshall Curry is about the Oregon-based activist Daniel McGowan and Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's "number one domestic terrorist threat." The film examines the question of affecting change from within or without the system and the disillusionment of public protest.

Coming to theaters on June 3, 2011.

More on mountaintop coal mining:
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Stream Damage Could Take 1000 Years to Fix
In Appalachia, Coal Mining Costs $9-$76 Billion More Per Year Than It Pulls In
Scientists Say Mountaintop Removal Mining Should Be Banned - No Remediation Ever Enough

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Coal | Documentaries