Thursday, November 11, 2010
If you know anyone who still doesn't understand that electricity costs more than what Duquesne Light bills you, take them to see this movie. It screens Sat., Nov. 20, as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival.
The fast-paced 52-minute documentary explores the impact of coal-mining in one place: Wise County, in southwest Virginia.
Over the years, one-quarter of the county's land has been strip-mined. The practice has polluted streams and destroyed old-growth forest. And, through mountaintop-removal mining, it's blown hundreds of feet off Appalachian peaks and deposited the rubble into stream valleys, all to get at the tasty coal inside.
Working with a wealth of old industrial films and other vintage footage, director Tom Hansell (of Kentucky's venerable arts nonprofit Appalshop) frames a case study in America's seemingly insatiable appetite for electricity.
The line of inquiry goes directly from a bombed mountain to your toaster: Coal accounts for nearly half of America's electricity. Yet the demand is fueled not only by consumerism but also the greed of coal companies and power companies.
The film follows the controversy over energy giant Dominion Power's proposal to build a new $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant -- also raising for local residents the specter of additional airborne pollutants, like soot and mercury.
Hansell focuses on just a few talking heads. The most riveting is Kathy Selvage, a Wise County activist from a coal family who's seen firsthand the damage mining does the land.
"We could live without electricity," Selvage says at one point. "But could we live without clean air, clean water?"
Others interviewed include Dominion officials, a history professor and an attorney from an environmental group.
The film is especially good at emphasizing that despite industry's promise of "good jobs," the coalfields invariably stay poor, and are left with a poisoned environment for their trouble. Hansell also effectively debunks industry hoo-ha about "clean coal."
Still think all this hasn't much to do with Pittsburgh? Well, federal estimates say we get about 80 percent of our electricity here from coal, well above the national average. And Hansel (in an e-mail) says much of the coal our power plants burn comes from Wise County, Va.
The Electricity Fairy screens at 7 p.m. Sat., Nov. 20, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., North Oakland (www.pghfilmmakers.org). Hansell will attend the screening.