by director/co-writer Bill Haney
Do you ever feel like skipping right to the cartoon section when you grab a newspaper? Moving blithely past tales of looming financial crisis, balance of trade deficits, endless entangling international war, health care burdens, generation threatening unemployment or catastrophic pending climate change? I sure do.
Not surprisingly, many of us feel we have no control when the nation or community we love seems headed for disaster. After all, the scale of challenges we hear about daily looms well above our capability to address, and the political system we designed to tackle continent-scale issues often seems broken, corruptible and unavailable.
And yet, in the hollows of Appalachia, under repeated assault from the region’s dominant coal industry a movement for change has been germinated. Surrounded by over one million acres of horrific devastation and with an explosive force the size of a Hiroshima bomb obliterating more forested landscape and unleashing new poisons on them each and every week, an unlikely coalition of Americans—waitresses and AARP members, former marines and documentary photographers, academics and college students, retired miners and 92-year-old great grandmothers—have come together to save their community, and to offer a pragmatic solution to each and every one of the problems I listed above. Their inspiring and courageous story lies at the heart of The Last Mountain.
These extraordinary Americans discovered, as I now have, that at the core of America’s trade deficit is not China—it’s our dependence on fossil fuels. Likewise, fossil fuel use propels the world-altering threat of global climate change, or what we should perhaps now more accurately call "climate destabilization." And how many of the brave men and women of our military would be deployed abroad right now if we needed no foreign energy supplies? Or, did you know that poisonous air emissions and water contamination from fossil fuel power plants leads to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, acute health threats for hundreds of thousands of newborns and damaging health consequences for tens of millions of the rest of us? I didn’t.
In the face of these threats, and forced into a corner by the powerful and ugly hand of coal interests, our fellow citizens didn’t merely find the roots of our common problems, they developed solutions—solutions that can work on the ridges of their Coal River Valley, and that offer all Americans a cleaner, more prosperous future. But their solutions threaten the financial interests of a small number of very powerful folks, so the battle is joined. Conflict now echoes across Appalachia as small bands of principled activists stand up for their rights, and ours.
Jailed for demanding action from their governor, jailed as they struggle to stop the rape of their communities, jailed for protesting the corruption that threatens their water supplies, with hunger strikes and epic marches, these Appalachians offer us far more than solutions to the economic and political issues that bedevil us. They remind us that leadership comes from unexpected corners, and that when ordinary Americans act together with character and courage, the breathtaking is possible. The Last Mountain follows their journey of anger, insight, achievement and inspiration. I hope that it moves you, as it has me.