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Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Catherine Pancake
Directed by Catherine Pancake
DVD, color and b&, 72 min.
College - Adult
Appalachian Studies, American Studies, Environmental Studies, Political Science

Reviewed by Charles Burkart, Media Bibliographer, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 3/20/2007

With the increase in oil and natural gas prices, coal has become the fuel of choice for electrical generation. Currently, coal accounts for over fifty percent of the electricity generated in the United States, and West Virginia is the nationís second largest exporter of coal. Coal mining has played a prominent part in West Virginiaís economy and culture since the start of the industrial age. Unfortunately, coal has provided a mixed legacy with wealth for the few and poverty for the many in Appalachia. While progress has been made in labor conditions, the number of coal mining jobs has actually declined since the 1950s and 1960s in West Virginia.

Black Diamonds is a documentary about contemporary coal mining in West Virginia with emphasis on large scale surface mining and the environmental problems caused by mountaintop removal. This important documentary presents a brief history of Appalachian coal mining up to 2005, as well as current court rulings (Bragg vs. Robertson and Judge Hadenís ruling) affecting mine reclamation and environmental degradation. A variety of viewpoints are presented by both the industry (West Virginia Coal Association) and partisan environmental activists (Julia Bonds and Maria Gunnoe)

Katherine Pancake, writer, director and producer of Black Diamond, uses a variety of editing techniques such as television clips, old documentaries, home videos, aerial photography, and personal interviews, to construct her excellent documentary. The picture quality of the film is usually clear and the color unsaturated. An original and authentic soundtrack lends realism and credence to Black Diamonds. Nevertheless, I thought the documentary could have been tightened up by editing out some superfluous sections. At times, the film seemed too long. In addition, the Bullfrog Films DVD lacked chapter and title menu selections.

Fifty six percent of West Virginia residents oppose mountaintop removal. The Appalachian forest region is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the United States. Will irresponsible land reclamation and environmental destruction ruin the beauty of Appalachia for future generations? These important questions are thoroughly explored in Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice. This searing documentary, along with Robert Gatesí All Shaken Up, belongs in all libraries (school, public, and university) in the coal mining regions of Appalachia. Other ecologically minded university and college libraries could also benefit from its purchase. From the heart of Appalachia, Morgantown, West Virginia, I strongly recommend this timely and important new documentary.