Posted by: Nick | January 23, 2008

Louisville Film Society Presents “Mountain Top Removal” @ The Clifton Center, 1/31

Mountaintop Removal
a film by Michael O’Connell
special screening w/the filmmaker and speakers
Jan 31st. 6 PM
Clifton Center
Admission: $10

Presented by the Louisville Film Society.

Synopsis & Reviews below the break…


Across Southern Appalachia mountaintop removal coal mining is leveling forests destroying communities and threating water supplies so that all of us can enjoy cheap electricity. This compelling documentary film explores the issue. The film features interviews with coal industry officials, citizen conservation groups, scientists, physicians and coal field activists including Larry Gibson, Maria Gunnoe, Ed Wiley , Julia Bonds and Jeff Goodell author of Big Coal Americas Dirty Energy Secret. Music from Sarah Hawker, Julie Miller, Donna the Buffalo and John Specker is featured in the film. The film is the second feature documentary release from Haw River Films ( located in Pittsboro North Carolina. Mountain Top Removal was produced and directed by Michael O’Connell. Visit


Review by Steve Fesenmaier
Graffti Magazine Dec 19 2006

Mountaintop Removal- a new film from North Carolina

Michael C. O’Connell of Haw River Films has created an excellent new film about the environmental devastation known as “mountaintop removal mining.” In less than an hour a viewer sees both the pro and con, the natives who are affected and the New York City writers who all have very definite opinions about the American way of producing electricity.

One of the best things about this film is that pro-coal experts like Bill Raney, the president of the WV Coal Association, have their say – and experts tell viewers the scientific truths which directly contradict Raney’s statements.

This film is a welcome addition to other environmental films on MTR including Robert Gates’ two films, “All Shaken Up” and “Mucked,” Sasha Water’s “Razing Appalachia,” Catherine Pancake’s “Black Diamonds,” “Moving Mountains” by Pa. school kids and B.J. Gudmundsson and Allen Johnson’s “Mountain Mourning.” I know of three other films on the subject that I look forward to watching.

There is an impressive list of experts including the well-known activists Larry Gibson, Julia Bonds, Maria Gunnoe, Allen Johnson and Ed Wiley, the grandfather of a girl who attends Marsh Fork Elementary. The experts include Jeff Goodell who wrote the cover story for the NY Times Sunday magazine and then “Big Coal,” Dr. Ben Stout, a Ph.D. from Wheeling Jesuit University, Dr. Schiffin from Williamson, a MD who cares for the residents injured by the pollution caused there by MTR, and Dr. Peter Huff from Duke. These interviews add great weight to the argument that the people of Appalachia are truly losing their health and environment in horrible ways not described by Mr. Raney.

The single biggest hero of this film is Ed Wiley who is shown meeting with Gov. Manchin and marching from Charleston to Washington, DC to promote awareness of what is happening to his grandchild and all of the children attended the threatened grade school. The next biggest hero is Larry Gibson who is shown leading a march to a second family cemetery already surrounded by the huge MTR site so well known to activists. I have not seen it before, but the large group that had to walk over company land to gain access to the second family cemetery is a truly poignant reminder of what is being lost.

Several other pro-MTR people are also interviewed including one man who says that it is dangerous for “outsiders” to “interfere.” His comments really reminded me of the people interviewed for “Eyes on the Prize” and other Sixties documentaries on the race war that engulfed the South. One activist indeed talks about the “all out war” that is now taking place in Appalachia – and thanks to publications such as Vanity Fair, The US News (both criticized by Raney), the NY Times and many other national publications and all of the films on MTR, national and international awareness is finally being achieved.

I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack of this film that includes music by Donna the Buffalo, Julie Miller, John Specker and Sarah Hawkes. Hopefully Haw River Films will release it as a CD. This is no accident since they earlier produced a film, “Grass Roots Stages” about a large number of musicians including Donna the Buffalo (who recently visited Charleston.) Other films they have produced include “Art in Motion,”

Review by

Tim Thornton Roanoke Times Feb 13 2007

It’s a straightforward documentary with a straightforward title: “Mountain Top Removal.” It ties more threads more tightly together than perhaps any other film account of mountaintop removal coal mining.

People familiar with the subject will see many familiar faces. Julia Bonds, the Coal River Valley resident and 2003 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, an international prize honoring grass-roots environmentalists, is here. So is Allen Johnson, co-founder of Christians for the Mountains. Ed Wiley, who confronted West Virginia’s governor and then marched from Charleston to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the threat a coal mine and sludge pond pose to his granddaughter’s elementary school, plays a big role. So does Maria Gunnoe, who says 5 acres of her family’s land have been washed away since a mountaintop removal mine increased the frequency and intensity of flooding by a nearby creek. Larry Gibson, whose family land on Kayford Mountain is surrounded by mountaintop removal coal mines, is prominent. So is Carmilita Brown, whose well was contaminated by a mountaintop removal operation.

The pro-mining forces get their say, but they definitely land on the short end of that stick. It’s up to viewers to decide whether the filmmakers or the weakness of their pro-coal arguments are the reason.

Viewers with a quick eye will spy Blacksburg activist Erin McKelvey and some coal cars manufactured at the old East End Shops in Roanoke. Jeff Goddell, author of “Big Coal,” admits that he didn’t know anything about the situation in Appalachia until The New York Times Magazine sent him into West Virginia in 2001. “Like many Americans, until that moment, I didn’t ever realize we still burned coal,” Goddell tells the camera. He thought that went out with top hats and corsets, Goddell says.

But the best lines come from Wiley. “It don’t grow back,” he says of a decapitated mountains. And from Gibson, who has been fighting the big mining companies for more than two decades. “They was always hope,” he says, standing on his patch of green encircled by blasting and dozers and giant haul trucks. “Cause that’s all I had.”

Review by Rich Copley, Mar. 11, 2007 Lexington Herald Leader .

Coal mining practices and dangers are shown on the big and small screens.

Mountaintop removal can seem like a distant, incomprehensible issue to those of us who don’t live in Appalachia. But to those directly affected by the practice, passions run high.

Mountaintop Removal, a documentary by North Carolina filmmaker Michael C. O’Connell, illuminates the topic in compelling fashion by telling the stories of people directly affected by the mining method.

The film gives voice to both sides of the issue, although it comes down firmly on the anti-mountaintop removal side. That’s illustrated by one segment in which a representative of the West Virginia Coal Producers Association, Bill Raney, insists there’s nothing wrong with coal slurries, one of the after-effects of mountaintop removal. He is immediately followed by Ben Stout of Wheeling Jesuit University, who enumerates the toxins, including arsenic, in slurries that seep into wells.

You have to wonder whether Raney knew that every one of his statements would be contradicted with overwhelming evidence when he granted the interview. The scads of people speaking in opposition to mountaintop removal and the coal companies include West Virginia residents affected by the practice and scientists and journalists who have taken up the cause.

Does the coal industry come across badly because of the filmmakers’ agenda, or is their position that indefensible? Viewers will have to decide.

If the issue seemed a bit amorphous before seeing the film, it is much more concrete after. And it’s worth a look at the Central Library Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The screening is free.


  1. […] excellence of the piece is its elaboration on the issues of mountaintop removal, which still seems, despite a fair amount of publicity recently, a relatively remote issue to most Kentuckians. Fortunately, as mentioned in the C-J’s […]

  2. Thanks bud. Great article you have here. Got some more sites to point to which have more information?

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