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College News

Film on Coalfield Mountaintop Removal at Catawba College

October 23, 2007

Category: Academics, Environmental Science, Events, Sociology


by Amanda Hooker, Catawba News Service

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Interview
with the
Film's
Director

Catawba College will present a documentary screening of "Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice" at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, in the Center for the Environment facility on the college campus. The film’s director, Catherine Pancake, will also be present for a discussion on the issue.

The "Black Diamonds" web site describes the film: "Black Diamonds charts the escalating drama in Appalachia over the alarming increase in large mountaintop coal mines. These mammoth operations have covered 1,200 miles of headwater streams with mining waste; demolished thousands of acres of hardwood forest; and flattened hundreds of Appalachian mountain peaks."

The film records the responses of citizens, activists and scientists to the issue and provides a look at the Appalachian culture and the beauty inherent in the Appalachian environment.

A 6:30 reception will precede the documentary. The event is open to the public without charge and is sponsored by the Department of Sociology, the Catawba Honors Program and Department of Environmental Science and Studies.
The film is being shown in conjunction with an Honors Section of the First-Year Seminar called "(Re) Inventing Appalachia." Dr. Maria Vandergriff-Avery, chair of the Department of Sociology and the section’s teacher, notes that the course uses a multidisciplinary perspective to examine Appalachian stereotypes and how they have been used to exploit both the people and the natural resources of the region.

Coal mining has been both beneficial and destructive to the area, Vandergriff-Avery says. "It is helpful to the economy when the coal mines can employ many people, but when the need for coal is not as high, the companies go away and leave the people who have been very committed to the company without work."

In addition, the environment is threatened with the techniques that are used to remove the coal. "At first it was strip mining and now it’s mountaintop removal," she says. "Not only does it reduce the number of people that are needed to mine coal, but it is also destroying the landscape that the people of the region hold so near and dear to their heart."

Vandergriff-Avery, a native of eastern Tennessee, has studied Appalachia for years. Her dissertation examined rural poverty and how welfare reform affects the lives of low-income families. She was also selected to attend a 2004 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute called "Regional Study and the Liberal Arts: Appalachia Up Close."

"I keep being drawn back to issues of concern for those who live in the Appalachian region," she says. I spent a week working in the community of Caretta, W. Va., as part of the NEH Summer Institute and saw the economic and environmental devastation caused by the coal mining industry."

Vandergriff-Avery notes that the film is a "good demonstration of both an environmental concern for the region and the grassroots movements that try to take control of a situation where people oftentimes feel very out of control."

She hopes those who view the documentary will learn more about mountaintop removal, what it does to the environment and how it affects everyone, not just the people of Appalachia. "I also hope my students get a real sense that people can and do work to make a difference," she says. "Maybe that will inspire them to take a stand when they see an injustice."


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