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.

  Still from "ON COAL RIVER." Judy Bonds speaking at a We ACT Conference, New York, NY 2009.  "Coal is killing us all and it's the number one cause of climate change."

Still from "ON COAL RIVER." Judy Bonds speaking at a We ACT Conference, New York, NY 2009.  "Coal is killing us all and it's the number one cause of climate change."

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. 

 On Coal River's  world premiere at AFI Silverdocs Film Festival. Reverend Billy and Church of Earthalujah performed songs about mountaintop removal while volunteers from Rainforest Action Network collected signatures for the Mountain Pledge.

On Coal River's world premiere at AFI Silverdocs Film Festival. Reverend Billy and Church of Earthalujah performed songs about mountaintop removal while volunteers from Rainforest Action Network collected signatures for the Mountain Pledge.

  Post-screening panel including the filmmakers, West Virginia residents Bo Webb, Judy Bonds, Ed Wiley, and Debbie Jarrell, moderated by investigative Journalist Charles Lewis.

Post-screening panel including the filmmakers, West Virginia residents Bo Webb, Judy Bonds, Ed Wiley, and Debbie Jarrell, moderated by investigative Journalist Charles Lewis.

  Museum of Modern Art (NYC) --Director Francine Cavanaugh attended two screenings sponsored by IFP/Gotham Awards and participated in post-screening Q&A moderated by Filmmaker Magazine Editor Scott Macauley.

Museum of Modern Art (NYC) --Director Francine Cavanaugh attended two screenings sponsored by IFP/Gotham Awards and participated in post-screening Q&A moderated by Filmmaker Magazine Editor Scott Macauley.

Policymaker Screenings

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. 

 

 On Coal River  screened in the US Capitol Center, organized in partnership with Appalachian Voices, Rainforest Action Network, and US Representatives Patrick Kennedy (RI) and Heath Shuler (NC). 

On Coal River screened in the US Capitol Center, organized in partnership with Appalachian Voices, Rainforest Action Network, and US Representatives Patrick Kennedy (RI) and Heath Shuler (NC). 

   Rep. Patrick Kennedy introduces  On Coal River .

 Rep. Patrick Kennedy introduces On Coal River.

  Capitol Hill, Washington DC — Panel discussion with film subjects Ed Wiley, and Debbie Jarrell, Judy Bonds, Bo Webb, and the filmmakers.

Capitol Hill, Washington DC — Panel discussion with film subjects Ed Wiley, and Debbie Jarrell, Judy Bonds, Bo Webb, and the filmmakers.

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.  

  Screening at the home of Ed and Deb Wiley to local community residents Peach Tree, WV in 2011.

Screening at the home of Ed and Deb Wiley to local community residents Peach Tree, WV in 2011.

  "On Coal River" has screened several summers during Mountain Justice Summer activist trainings in Coal River Valley, WV.

"On Coal River" has screened several summers during Mountain Justice Summer activist trainings in Coal River Valley, WV.

 Thomas Hoffman from Eco Action Group Ohio said "Just as the citizens of Raleigh County in the film were worried about the future of their community, we are worried about the future of ours. We at Eco Action Group feel that the screening of this film was crucial to the progression of our 100% Clean Bowling Green State University campaign."

Thomas Hoffman from Eco Action Group Ohio said "Just as the citizens of Raleigh County in the film were worried about the future of their community, we are worried about the future of ours. We at Eco Action Group feel that the screening of this film was crucial to the progression of our 100% Clean Bowling Green State University campaign."

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.

  On Coal River Study Guide 2012.

On Coal River Study Guide 2012.

  Q and A discussion with filmmakers post education guide module screening with a 5th-grade classroom in Arden, NC 2014.

Q and A discussion with filmmakers post education guide module screening with a 5th-grade classroom in Arden, NC 2014.

  On Coal River has been used by instructors at over 60 Universities in the US and abroad, as well as high schools, middle school, and student conferences.  

On Coal River has been used by instructors at over 60 Universities in the US and abroad, as well as high schools, middle school, and student conferences.  

  The Greenpeace Student Network screened On Coal River to 50 top organizers in Washington, DC 2012.  Lead organizer David Pinsky reported back "On Coal River was followed by a 1.5-hour discussion about MTR, activism, the state of our country with dirty energy. The conversation led to a Greenpeace student campaign to shut down coal-fired electricity at targeted universities."

The Greenpeace Student Network screened On Coal River to 50 top organizers in Washington, DC 2012.  Lead organizer David Pinsky reported back "On Coal River was followed by a 1.5-hour discussion about MTR, activism, the state of our country with dirty energy. The conversation led to a Greenpeace student campaign to shut down coal-fired electricity at targeted universities."

Campaign Support

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.

  2005, Bo Webb collects health information going door to door in Coal River Valley, WV.  

2005, Bo Webb collects health information going door to door in Coal River Valley, WV.  

  Still photo from "On Coal River" 2009.

Still photo from "On Coal River" 2009.

 

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.

  Informational bookmarks distributed to many audiences letting them knows ways to support The Clean Water Protection Act.

Informational bookmarks distributed to many audiences letting them knows ways to support The Clean Water Protection Act.