The Last Mountain, which opens this weekend in Los Angeles and Orange County and will soon expand nationally, is well timed in this regard.
Eco-filmmaker Bill Haney, whose last film was the acclaimed The Price of Sugar, has once again teamed with social issues-oriented producer/director Tim Disney (American Violet) to pull back the curtain on the continuing battle over coal strip-mining in the Appalachian Mountains. The citizens of Coal River Valley, West Virginia, have long been subjected to deforestation, flooding, birth defects and brain tumors that they claim are the consequences of mountain top removal by Massey Energy in their vicinity. According to a statistic cited in The Last Mountain, "Mountain top removal has destroyed 500 Appalachian mountains, decimated 1 million acres of forest, and buried 2,000 miles of streams."
Haney focuses on efforts over the past decade led by Maria Gunhoe, a local waitress-turned-activist, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to hold Massey Energy's CEO and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of the corporation's biggest defenders, accountable. Along the way, we meet numerous townspeople and experts concerned about the coal industry in particular and America's ongoing dependence on coal energy in general. The film also provides gorgeous, almost painterly shots of the Appalachians. This is one movie that really ought to be presented in 3D.
The Last Mountain filmmakers unquestionably side with Massey Energy's critics, which limits their objectivity. Defenders of the corporation and of coal mining are given very brief screen time. Still, this is an important account of a disastrous situation that was permitted to grow out of control under former President George W. Bush. Damage has obviously been done. Hopefully, The Last Mountain will encourage justice to be achieved and healing to begin.
Reverend's Rating: A-
UPDATE: The Last Mountain is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.