Do not begrudge David Novack for flaunting his bias: The title of this documentary feature is enough to tell you that he’s on the side of a West Virginia community being decimated by mountaintop mining, but it’s also the right side. The state accounts for a significant portion of our country’s coal exports, but the fallout from coal extraction is not only spoiling the natural landscape of the state’s Appalachia region but also killing some of its people. The spirited, homegrown activists Novack interviews throughout are not against mining, only the mountaintop variety that has cost the industry jobs and continues to lay waste to the ecosystem; all they ask for is better safety standards, but try telling that to the Bush administration, which has eased legal restrictions on mountaintop mining over the years. (Not that he planted the “Bush Heart Coal” placard hanging out behind one particularly offensive talking head, but lest you accuse Novack of easily gunning for Dubya, the filmmaker points out that the devastation in Appalachia has been acerbated by bipartisan legislation.) These justifiably enraged victims of a callous U.S. energy policy are written off as lunatics by local proponents of this particularly aggressive form of mining, or as one proud hillbilly activist confesses beneath a quiet torrent of tears, “acceptable collateral damage.” The documentary lacks for focus, and though Novack gluttonously submits to emphasizing an already lucid point with a silly animated cartoon sequence (boringly and predictably tipping his hat to Michael Moore and his legion of copycats, from Morgan Spurlock to Daniel G. Karslake), the ironies he illuminates can be flabbergasting. God is often invoked by proponents, most chillingly by West Virginia governor Joe Manchin III, who says, “The good Lord gave us the resources for us to help ourselves,” but it would appear God is actually on the side of Novack’s base when a priest shows up at a protest rally and gives his support to all those being poisoned by money-grubbing coal interests.
- 89 min
- David Novack
- David Novack, Richard Hankin
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