ON COAL RIVER Documentary Outreach Campaign
On Coal River, released in 2010, is an award-winning feature documentary that I co-directed and produced. The film follows a former coal miner and his neighbors in a David-and-Goliath struggle to protect their community from mountaintop removal coal mining and other destructive mining practices.
As part of our distribution strategy, my co-producers and I — with the help of non-profit partners — launched an extensive outreach and engagement campaign. We used our successful festival run and national broadcast to support environmental justice work through policymaker screenings, grassroots community screenings, educational initiatives, and multiple opportunities for civic engagement.
Our plan was to promote and amplify the ongoing work of our partner organizations: Coal River Mountain Watch, Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace Student Alliance, Rainforest Action Network, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Film Festival Screenings and Premiere
On Coal River won numerous awards and was an official selection at film festivals including a premiere at AFI/Discovery Channel SILVERDOCS, Camden International Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, MountainFilm in Telluride, Big Sky Documentary Festival, and others.
During our festival run, I worked with festival organizers and non-profit partners to put together and participate in Q&A's, panel discussions, and sidebar events featuring celebrities, activists portrayed in the film, policymakers, journalists, and allied performers. These live discussions allowed the audience to interact with the filmmakers and film subjects, and they allowed us to give the audience the latest information about ways that they could engage with the issues raised in the film.
Early in the film's release, we realized that On Coal River had a strong resonance with policymakers. At one of our first festival screenings, an audience member said during the Q&A, "I'm from the Office of Surface Mining. I have a stack of mining permits to review on Monday, and after seeing this film, I don't know what I'm going to do."
With our partners Appalachian Voices and Rainforest Action Network, we organized a screening in the US Capitol Center, sponsored by US Representatives Patrick Kennedy (RI) and Heath Shuler (NC). Over 200 people attended including numerous congressional staffers, as well as officials from US EPA and Office of Surface Mining.
The On Coal River team went on to organize screenings with the US EPA, the National Brownfields Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association. We organized and participated in panels with numerous city, state, and national elected officials, as well as coal industry representatives and mining agency officials.
Grassroots Screenings in Impacted Areas
In addition to national broadcast, digital distribution, and theatrical screenings in over 70 cities across the US, On Coal River was screened numerous times in Coal River Valley and other areas impacted my mountaintop removal coal mining. The film screened at the Appalachian Film Festival (where it won "Best Documentary,"), West Virginia University, and at the Appalachian Studies Association. The film was used as a training tool by Mountain Justice, and by Coal River Mountain Watch.
Educational Screenings and Outreach
On Coal River has been used in a huge range of educational contexts, and our team created additional assets to help make the film effective in this way.
My co-producer and I joined forces with a team of writers: Insight Education Consulting, Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools and Celeste Royer of the California Regional Environmental Education Community Network, to create a standards-based study guide for middle school to college to accompany the film. The guide incorporates video clips, maps, images, and three scalable lesson plans, to teach students about mountaintop removal coal mining, civic participation, and environmental justice.
Throughout our distribution and engagement campaign, we have looked for ways to coordinate with existing organizations and to support their work. We have used our website, social media accounts and screenings to direct people to organizations working on mountaintop removal such as Rainforest Action Network, Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace Student Network, Coal River Mountain Watch, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and ACHE.
The ACHE ACT
What began as a grassroots effort to collect anecdotal health data (as seen in On Coal River) has developed into a campaign armed with peer-reviewed health studies, and legislation that has been introduced into every session of congress since 2012. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, H.R. 786, re-introduced in February 2017 by Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25), places a “time out” on all new mountaintop removal mining permits until federal officials determine that the controversial process does not pose a threat to the health of surrounding communities. Since 2012, co-director Adams Wood and I have provided logistical media support for the ACHE Act campaign.
As part of the Do Something Reel Film Festival, On Coal River screened theatrically in 70 cities across the US. During the Festival's two month duration, I worked in close collaboration with the festival team, Appalachian Voices, and Rainforest Action Network to collect petition signatures, and to create informational bookmarks that were distributed to approximately 15,000 Attendees.