Saturday, July 11, 2009
The world premiere of the long awaited (or long dreaded for some) documentary "Coal Country" was held this evening at the Cultural Center theater. The premiere was originally scheduled for the LaBelle Theater in South Charleston, but that theater's board of directors canceled the show due to "security concerns" and the Cultural Center came to the rescue. As it turns out there were no security issues, and except for some shouting back and forth during the movie, the crowd was well behaved.
Unfortunately the Cultural Center holds less than 500 people and there were probably 600 or more that showed up. The cultural center staff was extraordinarily accommodating and allowed a few people to stand near the theater doors and even rigged an extra loudspeaker in the lobby so people could at least hear the audio. Kudos to them and to the movie's executive producer who walked through the lobby thanking people for coming and apologizin for the lack of seating.
There were people from both sides of the coal mining debate present, but as you might imagine the environmentalists certainly had the larger contingent. The pro-mining folks were a little louder though, and first made their presence known when one of the producers made a special mention of Ken Hechler. "No one loves this state as much as Ken Hechler," she said and the crowd applauded, except for some very loud voices saying "we love this state, too!" Most of those were wearing the tell tale camouflaged ball caps or mining company t-shirts. After the movie began, theses folks were not shy to roar with approval every time someone on screen shared an opinion or sentiment that they liked.
The people on the other side were quick to shout "grow up!" whenever the pro-mining would get vociferous, but whenever one of their people would say something onscreen they would be just as obnoxious.
The movie was remarkably well-balanced and the cat calls were pretty much even for the balance of the movie.
I enjoyed the movie. Certainly I was expecting an anti-mining propaganda piece, and that's pretty much what it is, but it was done with grace and sincere appreciation for the miner's point of view. The movie was edited without narration, one of those "in their own words" kind of documentaries. I didn't put a clock on it, but the screen time given to those with pro-coal views were pretty much equal to the anti-coal voices, although it's difficult to say that the strength of their rhetoric was comparable; Certainly the anti-coal people were the stronger. The producers explained before the screening that they couldn't get enough people from the coal industry to speak to them on camera to have a true representation. But there were a few authoritative and persuasive pro-coal voices in the film.
Overall, I think if you drive a Volvo covered with bumper stickers you won't be quite satisfied with the strength of the anti-coal rhetoric. If you drive a truck with a "Coal Keeps The Lights On" license plate, you will be pleasantly surprised that your views are represented, but still will feel that the movie was unfairly slanted. That everyone will be a little dissatisfied is the sign of a good compromise. And while you might say that a film like this shouldn't compromise, I far prefer this approach to an in your face propaganda piece that goes to any length to win converts. This film probably didn't change anyone's mind, but it did fairly frame the discussion.