The buzz is heightening. The Sundance official selection documentary The Last Mountain is arriving at theaters across America beginning this weekend in Washington, DC, and New York City. Throughout June, it will open in 18 other cities, bringing this film — on the frightening effects of destructive mountaintop removal mining– to the biggest metropolitan markets in the nation.
The film is a powerful glimpse into the bombing and razing of mountains in West Virginia for coal, the corrupt politics that enable that destruction, and the people and communities at the foot of the exploded mountains who are paying the real price, and suffering the real costs, of one of America’s greatest and most enduring environmental tragedies.
The Last Mountain introduces viewers to some of Earthjustice’s closest partners in Appalachia. You will meet the brave and brilliant Maria Gunnoe, a mother and accidental activist with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition who inspires with her fortitude to speak out against the injustices of mountaintop removal mining in a land where coal is king. You will meet Bo Webb, a former Marine who fought for his country in Vietnam, and who now finds himself fighting to save his hometown in West Virginia and the last great mountain left near it, Coal River Mountain.
Bo, a member of the local group Coal River Mountain Watch, proves that real patriotism is finding the courage to stand up to protect your neighbors, your community, your homeland and your family history from destruction when the government and authorities around you ignore it and enable it.
You’ll meet someone we’re proud to call our close partner and litigation co-counsel Joe Lovett, founder and executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, who has argued in court on behalf of dozens of communities across West Virginia whose health, property, and livelihoods have been damaged and polluted by coal companies.
You’ll also meet Ed Wiley, a former Massey mountaintop removal miner whose eyes are opened when he sees his granddaughter face danger attending a school that sits at the bottom of a massive mountaintop removal mine site. Above them sits an enormous toxic sludge pond, housed in an earthen dam that could break and kill all the schoolchildren in a matter of seconds. Ed led a successful and hard-fought effort for the school to be moved to a safer place.
If you watch closely, you’ll see that the movie briefly captures the late Winnie Fox, a 91-year-old local hero who passed away this year after dedicating decades to protesting the injustices and destruction of strip mining and mountaintop removal mining on her community and others nearby.
In the movie, Winnie, who attends a protest in her wheelchair, is roughly manhandled and violently removed from a public demonstration. Before she passed, I asked her why she gives so much of her life to this fight to save the mountains. She responded, “We don’t have a choice, honey. We have got to save this planet.” Winnie lived by the following nugget of wisdom, which she took joy in sharing: “If you sit on your butt, you’re gonna rot.”
The film also tells the stories of two very different public figures: the notorious chief of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, whose management guided the company to rack up thousands of health, safety and environmental violations and led to the fatal Upper Big Branch mine disaster last year; and in contrast, the magnanimous Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, one of the nation’s most outspoken leaders against mountaintop removal mining. The movie tells of how he came to champion this cause.
This week, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has been making the TV rounds to promote the film. Watch his fantastic appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday morning, in which he explains how the coal industry in Appalachia has subverted democracy. And his appearance on the Colbert Report on Wednesday evening is a must-see. Especially noteworthy is Stephen Colbert’s claim that the mountains are a renewable resource (“Tectonic movement will bring about new mountains in a few thousand years. What’s the problem?” quips Colbert).
If you haven’t seen The Last Mountain‘s trailer yet, watch it here. And look here for a list of theaters and opening dates in the 20 cities across the country.
Get out to see this movie in a theater near you. Encourage your friends, family and colleagues to see The Last Mountain to raise awareness of mountaintop removal mining. Your seeing this movie will help build the movement: Selling out the movie in your theater will help it travel to other theaters, and will encourage more dates to be added — meaning more people can see this movie and more eyes can be opened to the harms of mountaintop removal mining.