ON COAL RIVER takes viewers on a gripping emotional journey into the Coal River Valley of West Virginia — a community surrounded by lush mountains and a looming toxic threat. The film follows a former coal miner and his neighbors in a David-and-Goliath struggle for the future of their valley, their children, and life as they know it.
Ed Wiley is a former coal miner who once worked at a toxic waste facility that now threatens his granddaughter’s elementary school. When his local government refuses to act, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. With insider knowledge and a sharp sense of right and wrong, Ed confronts his local school board, state government, and a notorious coal company — Massey Energy — for putting his granddaughter and his community at risk.
Along the way, Ed is supported by his neighbors Bo Webb and Judy Bonds, who have their own problems with Massey Energy. Ex-marine Bo Webb retired to his childhood home only to discover that this once-idyllic valley is being transformed by a company practicing “mountaintop removal” – blowing up mountains to extract coal. Bo’s neighbor Judy Bonds was forced to leave her ancestral home when the same company opened a mine next door – sending dangerous black water down the creek where her grandson played. Together, Bo and Judy help Ed bring attention to the dangers at Marsh Fork Elementary, hoping that if they save the school, they can save the valley.
Across the river, Maria Lambert recognizes a pattern in the unusual health problems plaguing her community. Following intuition, and what she describes as a mission from above, Maria gathers evidence suggesting the state’s largest mining company has contaminated her neighborhood’s water supply.
Shot over a five year period, ON COAL RIVER follows the transformation of these four remarkable individuals as they fight for the valley they love and for future generations — making dramatic changes against all odds.
ON COAL RIVER premiered at AFI/Silverdocs, and was official selection of over 30 film festivals including Camden International Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and MountainFilm in Telluride. Nominated for an IFP/Gotham Award, the film aired on Outside Television, screened on Capitol Hill, and went on to screen at film venues in over 70 cities across the US.