Documentaries about coal

From Global Energy Monitor

Coal Documentaries

  • 60 Minutes - Coal Cowboy, CBS (2006) [1]
    • While the president spent much of last week promoting energy alternatives of the future, like hybrid cars and fuels made from wood chips, the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, says there's something we can have up and running in the next five years. What he has in mind is using the coal, billions of tons of it, under the high plains of his home state. The governor tells correspondent Lesley Stahl he wants to use an existing process to turn that coal into a synthetic liquid fuel, or synfuel. The plan is controversial, but Gov. Schweitzer — half Renaissance man, half rodeo cowboy — seems ready for the challenge. In fact, he sounds like he’s ready to take on the world.
  • 60 Minutes - The Widows of Harlan County, CBS (2007) [2]
    • The U.S. relies on coal for half its electricity, so is the demand for coal so great that some mine owners are sacrificing safety for profit? That is what some widows in Harlan County, Kentucky, claim. Their husbands are among the 47 men who died in mining accidents last year, the deadliest year in mining in decades. These widows tell Bob Simon that their husbands' deaths could have been prevented, but a lawyer for one mine says mining is just a dangerous job.
  • America's Castles - Coal Barons, A&E Home Video (2006) [3]
    • The 19th century saw a dramatic increase in the mining of coal. By the time the Civil War began, millions of tons of coal were being produced annually in the United States. Citizens of other countries were also profiting from this industry. Their immense wealth made it possible for these people to build extravagant homes and other structures. This A&E tour takes viewers to see some of the "castles" built by these coal barons. The Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia, is among those mansions built from coal riches. Like so many older American homes built with little regard for expense, it has now become a museum.
  • Beyond The Light Switch, PBS (2010)[4]
    • A decade into the 21st Century and America already faces a challenge equal to the mobilization of World War Two...the complete transformation of our entire electrical infrastructure. So what is the right way forward? Coal? Natural gas? Renewables? Nuclear? Or a super grid? Which gives us the most bang for our buck? Which path achieves all our goals while creating jobs and gaining a measure of energy security? For answers be sure to join us as we go Beyond the Light Switch...
  • Blood on the Mountain, (Evening Star Productions, 2015)[5]
    • Synopsis from website: "Blood on the Mountain is a searing investigation into the economic and environmental injustices that have resulted from industrial control in West Virginia. This new feature documentary details the struggles of a hard-working, misunderstood people, who have historically faced limited choices and have never benefited fairly from the rich, natural resources of their land. Blood On The Mountain delivers a striking portrait of a fractured population, exploited and besieged by corporate interests, and abandoned by the powers elected to represent them."
  • Burning the Future (David Novak, 2008)[6]
    • Synopsis from film website:
"In Burning the Future: Coal in America, writer/director David Novack examines the explosive conflict between the coal industry and residents of West Virginia. Confronted by emerging “clean coal” energy policies, local activists watch a world blind to the devastation caused by coal's extraction. Faced with toxic ground water, the obliteration of 1.4 million acres of mountains, and a government that appeases industry, our heroes demonstrate a strength of purpose and character in their improbable fight to arouse the nation's help in protecting their mountains, saving their families, and preserving their way of life.
  • The Cheshire Transaction (Carey Murphy and Lea Prainsack)[7]
    • Tired of fighting with the massive coal-fired power plant next door, some residents of Cheshire, Ohio, USA suggest to sell their quaint village to the plant's owner, American Electric Power (AEP). When the company offers $20 million for the town, some think it sounds like a great deal. Others are not so intrigued. Will the money convince the villagers to waive their rights to sue the company for future health damages and to abandon their centuries-old community?
  • Coal: A Love Story (Powering A Nation, 2011)[8]
    • Synopsis from website:
"Coal: A Love Story" explores our modern culture’s complicated relationship with coal. Almost half of the nation's electricity is generated from the burning of coal. Despite the fact that we rely on electricity for nearly everything we do, few of us are aware of how it is generated. Whether we like it or not, we are in a complicated relationship with coal for the foreseeable future. The purpose of this project is to start a conversation about our multi-faceted relationship with coal through personalized video stories, written pieces and graphics. "Coal: A Love Story" is a groundbreaking multimedia report that represents a shift away from traditional journalism. Utilizing an immersive online experience, the website challenges the viewer to engage with energy issues in a highly personalized way.
  • Coal Country (Mari-Lynn Evans and Phylis Geller, 2009)[9]
    • Synopsis by Sierra Club Productions:[10]
"Coal Country takes us inside modern coal mining. We get to know working miners along with activists who are battling coal companies in Appalachia. We visit the homes of people most directly affected by mountaintop removal mining (MTR) and hear about health problems, dirty water in their wells and streams, and dust and grime on their floors. We hear from miners and coal company officials who are concerned about jobs and the economy and believe they are acting responsibly in bringing power to the American people."
  • Features interviews with organizer Kathy Selvage, mining manager Randall Maggard, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, attorney Joe Lovett, activist Judy Bonds, retired miner Chuck Nelson, and activist Elisa Young.
  • Coal Rush (Lorena Luciano & Filippo Piscopo, 2012)[11]
    • Synopsis by the filmmakers:[12]
Coal Rush is a documentary following the progress of a multi-million dollar case against the coal company Massey Energy, accused of covert contamination of drinking water in the Southern West Virginia coalfields. The plaintiffs, more than 500 residents of Mingo County, are plagued by widespread health problems, such as abnormal rates of cancer, liver failures, and neurological diseases. They claim that for more than 30 years they have been secretly poisoned by illegal dumping of coal slurry underground by major US coal producer Massey Energy. In addition to the legal battle, Coal Rush brings a major story of human suffering into focus. Struggling against extreme poverty and life-threatening illnesses, the communities affected by water contamination find their voice as the story unfolds, just as the country enters into a “clean energy” debate in which many invested interests and ecological risks are at stake. The film unveils how communities in the coalfields are split over coal’s costs and benefits. Interviews and "cinema verite" action from both sides are shown, as Coal Rush gives voice to those who oppose the muscle of Big Coal, the only industry in the region, as well as pro-coal activists in their quest to promote the crucial role of coal in America’s energy independence.
  • Deep Down (Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin, 2010) [13]
    • Deep in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky, where coal is king, Beverly May and Terry Ratliff find themselves at the center of a contentious community battle over a proposed mountaintop removal coal mine.
  • The Devil's Breath: The Story of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster, CustomFlix (2007) [14]
    • On the morning of June 19th of 1914, a massive methane and coal dust explosion rocked the Hillcrest Collieries coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass of southwestern Alberta, Canada. Miners from nearby mines in the Crowsnest Pass, including Fernie and Hosmer in B.C, Coleman, Bellevue, Passburg, and Lethbridge in Alberta rushed to the scene, and struggled day and night to rescue or recover the bodies of their miner friends. At risk of life they braved the possibility of new explosions, roof collapses, poisonous gas, suffocation, and mine fires. Once the rescue and recovery efforts were over, the death toll stood at 189. Of the 235 men who entered the mine that morning, only 46 survived.
    • With historical stills of the actual events, dramatised segments, and contemporary video of the mine site, The Devil's Breath tells the story of the founding, explosion, investigations, and final closure of the mine. A miner from Hosmer tells in a voice recording how he and his companions recovered the bodies of friends from the ruined mine, and in a personal memoir, a Ukrainian miner tells of his dramatic fight to stay alive, and to flee the poisonous gasses which nearly took his life. This investigative 48-minute documentary asks what happened and why, and in the process, discovers a poignant story of pain and loss never before told in such detail with facts and information hidden in archives until now.
  • DirtyBusiness, The Center for Investigative Reporting (Peter Bull, 2010) [15]
    • In the digital age, half our electricity still comes from coal. Dirty Business reveals the true social and environmental costs of coal power and tells the stories of innovators who are pointing the way to an alternative energy future. Guided by Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell, the film examines what it means to remain dependent on a 19th century technology that is the largest single source of greenhouse gases. Can coal really be made clean? Can renewables be produced on a scale large enough to replace coal? The film seeks answers in a series of stories shot in China, Saskatchewan, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada and New York.
  • The Electricity Fairy, Appalshop Films (Tom Hansell, 2010)[16]
    • Coal produces half of America’s electricity, according to the Federal Department of Energy. The energy policy currently before Congress identifies coal as a key to America’s "energy independence.” The Electricity Fairy is a documentary that examines America's national addiction to fossil fuels through the lens of electricity. Appalshop Filmmaker Tom Hansell follows the story of a proposed coal-fired power plant in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Wise County Plant, connecting the local controversy to the national debate over energy policy. Present day documentary footage is remixed with old educational films, connecting past policy to America's current energy crisis.
  • Empires of Industry - Legacy of King Coal, The History Channel (2006) [17]
    • Everything about the job is dangerous. The mines can cave in. Poisonous gasses can leech from the rock and suffocate miners, or ignite in horrific explosions. Deep beneath the earth, coal miners risk their lives to extract the fuel that powers the industrial colossus that is America. THE LEGACY OF KING COAL is a comprehensive chronicle of this vital industry, featuring extensive footage of coal mining through the years. Trace the long history of labor unrest that often pointed the way for other industries, and relive some of the worst industrial disasters in history. Descend into the bowels of the earth for an up-close look at modern coal mining, and see how, despite countless technological advances and safety features, it remains one of the most dangerous of man's undertakings. In extensive interviews, labor leaders and coal company presidents offer insights into this vital industry, while industrial historians trace the impact of coal on the American economy. THE LEGACY OF KING COAL is a fascinating journey through the history of industrial America a saga of greed, hunger and the rights of the men who risk their lives beneath the earth.
  • Harlan County, U.S.A., Criterion (1976) [18]
    • A man crouches and pokes at what first appears to be a wad of chewed-up pink bubble gum on the ground. "That's what a scab will do to ya, by God," he says, his voice quavering with emotion. The pink wad is brain tissue from a striker shot in the head by a strikebreaker. That's one of the harsh realities of Harlan County USA. Barbara Kopple's documentary camera looks at this forgotten corner of 1970s America, the site of some of the bitterest labor violence in American history. It's hard to believe that some 40 years after the Depression, there were parts of Appalachia that were hardly better off than they were in the 1930s. The care-worn faces of the miners and their families speak volumes. They're the tough, proud faces of people struggling to make a living the way that their parents and grandparents did in generations past. Kopple skillfully weaves archival footage and traditional labor songs through the film to give a historical perspective to the strike against Eastover Mining Company. Above and beyond the labor issues, the film takes a hard look at the living conditions, health issues, and poverty faced by Harlan's residents, the human toll that goes along with the mining industry. The tense confrontations between Eastover's slimy security goons and the unionizers are particularly gripping, with the threat of violence hanging thick in the air. Sometimes ugly, always absorbing, this is an important, enlightening social record, one that serves the highest calling of the documentary filmmaker's art.
  • The Kingdom of Coal, BIRN and Crossing Bridges (2011) [19]
    • The Kingdom of Coal is a documentary produced by BIRN and Crossing Bridges, which in the most recent International Documentary and Short Film Festival, DOKUFEST, was awarded the best film prize in the category for the environment, GreenDoc. Competing with other international films dealing with environmental issues, ‘Kingdom of Coal’ was considered by the festival’s international jury to be a significant film for the region. The documentary investigates the economic, health and environmental costs of coal, while exploring the potential for alternative energy in Kosovo.
  • The Last Mountain, Solid Ground Films (2011) [20]
    • In the valleys of Appalachia, a battle is being fought over a mountain. It is a battle with severe consequences that affect every American, regardless of their social status, economic background or where they live. It is a battle that has taken many lives and continues to do so the longer it is waged. It is a battle over protecting our health and environment from the destructive power of Big Coal. The mining and burning of coal is at the epicenter of America’s struggle to balance its energy needs with environmental concerns. Nowhere is that concern greater than in Coal River Valley, West Virginia, where a small but passionate group of ordinary citizens are trying to stop Big Coal corporations, like Massey Energy, from continuing the devastating practice of Mountain Top Removal.
  • Low Coal, Evening Star Productions (2011) [21]
    • Low Coal is an exploration of what it's like to live with the coal industry. Telling the stories of activists and injured miners, Low Coal makes the case that strong and resilient Appalachian communities are paying a heavy price for the benefits to the region that the coal industry provides. This price is paid by the people in the areas around the mines, whether or not they have a formal relationship with the mining industry. The film profiles UMWA members who have worked to improve conditions in the deep mines, and shows what it was like for the community around the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. It also shows what it's like for people who are having their family histories and communities destroyed by Mountaintop Removal. The film makes a strong effort to distinguish between purely profit-driven mine companies, like Massey Energy, and the individuals who are tasked with doing difficult, dangerous, and thankless work of mining coal.
  • Modern Marvels - Coal Mines, The History Channel (2008) [22]
    • Coal--the fuel responsible for more than half the electricity used daily. We unearth the amazing technological advances that have led to today's extremely efficient methods--from ancient techniques to the simplistic bell pit method, from drift mining, surface mining, and strip mining to modern longwall mining, when a massive machine extracts an entire wall of coal in seconds. We go underground with miners in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, and also address environmental concerns.
  • Mountaintop Removal, Haw River Films (2007)
    • Michael C. O'Connell reveals how strip-mining in West Virginia is impacting local communities in the heart of coal-mining country. While the demolition of the ancient mountain tops alters the state's natural landscape, the transportation of the mountain debris to adjacent valleys is creeping into natural resources used by area residents. Filmed over a two-year period, Mountain Top Removal features citizen activists, such as Ed Wiley, Larry Gibson, Julia Bonds, Maria Gunnoe, and Mountain Justice Summer volunteers, in their efforts to stop the destruction of Southern Appalachia's natural landscape. The film also includes commentary from Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future, geologists Dr. William Schlesinger and Dr. Peter Taft from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and also Bill Raney, President of the West Virginia Coal Association.[23]
  • On Coal River, Southern Documentary Fund (in development) [24]
    • On Coal River takes viewers on a gripping emotional journey into the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, where longtime local residents begin to uncover the toxic effects of America’s increased demand for cheap coal, a resource that supplies half of America’s electricity.
    • As a former miner, Ed Wiley knows the importance of West Virginia’s largest industry, but when he senses his granddaughter’s recurrent illness is linked to a coal waste facility near her school, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. To his dismay not everyone in the valley recognizes the impending threat, and he soon finds himself in the midst of a political tug-of-war.
  • A Thousand Little Cuts, (in production)[26][27]
    • From the website for "A Thousand Little Cuts":[28]
"'A Thousand Little Cuts' isn't a story about mountaintop removal. That story has been done. This is the story of a grandmother, her back pushed against the wall by Big Coal, and her transformation into a green energy activist fighting to build one of the first wind farms in Appalachia, then a twice-arrested mountaintop removal coal mining protester, and finally, after a dramatic turn of events, a community development organizer trying to save her home. It's a story of change: of a culture, of a community, of a family, and of a person."



  1. "60 Minutes - Coal Cowboy". CBS. 2006.
  2. "The Widows of Harlan County". CBS. 2007.
  3. "America's Castles - Coal Barons". A&E Home Video. 2006.
  4. Beyond The Light Switch
  5. Blood on the Mountain, (Evening Star Productions, 2015)
  6. Burning the Future, (David Novak, 2008)
  7. The Cheshire Transaction
  8. Coal: A Love Story, (Powering A Nation, 2011)
  9. Coal Country, (Mari-Lynn Evans and Phylis Geller, 2009)
  10. "Coal Country," Sierra Club Productions
  11. Coal Rush, (Lorena Luciano & Filippo Piscopo, 2012)
  12. "Coal Rush," Film 2 Productions
  13. Deep Down, (Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin, 2010)
  14. The Devil's Breath: The Story of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster
  15. Dirty Business, (Peter Bull, 2010)
  16. The Electricity Fairy (Tom Hansell, 2010)
  17. "Legacy of King Coal". A&E Home Video. 2006.
  18. "Harlan County, U.S.A." Criterion. 1976.
  19. "The Kingdom of Coal". BIRN and Crossing Bridges. 2011.
  20. . Solid Ground Films. 2011 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. . Evening Star Productions. 2011 {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. "Modern Marvels - Coal Mines". A&E Home Video. 2008.
  23. Mountaintop Removal, Haw River Films (2007)
  24. "On Coal River". N/A. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. Power Paths
  26. A Thousand Little Cuts, trailers and background
  27. The Coal War | Fighting to Save a Mountain and Its People, Facebook page
  28. A Thousand Little Cuts, trailers and background

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