Stirring and eye-opening, The Last Mountain details a small community’s fight against the coal industry in Coal River Valley, West Virginia, and gives lie to the notion that the debate over independence from Middle Eastern oil is the only, or even most important, front in the battle for America’s energy future. It’s the most jointly effective and stirring environmental documentary
since the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, and sure to be a
contender for Academy Award shortlisting later this year.
Bill Haney’s Sundance-minted nonfiction film digs into the heretofore unsexy and largely unknown issue of mountain top removal, a particularly invasive form of strip mining, and makes a persuasive case that insidious corporations have allied themselves with (mostly though not exclusively Republican) politicians and political interests to chip away at the efficacy of the 1972 Clean Water Act and other greater-public-good environmental regulations.
It’s a somewhat but not entirely subjective genre entry, benefiting from a good, pointed diner discussion between Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. That the tired “local-jobs” arguments Raney and others trot out are right out of the obstructionist’s status quo playbook (the now-indicted CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, literally wraps himself in the American flag, slagging environmentalists as job-killing dilettantes while decked out in a gaudy flag-print shirt and hat) may make them risible from afar, but it’s not a laughing matter for the families of six deceased victims of brain tumors along one sad street.
A bit more could be done earlier to tie the Coal Valley fight to the rest of the country (given that half of all railroad freight involves coal, and thus they too have a vested interest in keeping their best customers around, and profitable), and to detail some of the specifics of Massey’s terrible record of safety violations (more than 60,000 over a six-year period). But The Last Mountain is a powerful and unsettling call to action, yet again throwing a spotlight on the virulent schemes that moneyed interests hatch to wring as much private profit as possible from public lands. Lest one think it’s all doom-and-gloom, however, there’s also a heartening, clear-eyed case made for the cost-effectiveness of alternative energies. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. For more information on the film, meanwhile, click here. (Dada Films, PG, 95 minutes)