Music and Movies Save Mountains

Posted on May 27, 2010
As we watched the sold-out crowd in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium rise to its feet while Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Kathy Mattea, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Big Kenny, and several other musicians joined their voices together to raise awareness for the issue of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, it dawned on us: as of today, we are officially part of a movement. This week, Deep Down participated in two Nashville events with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). On May 19th, the Deep Down trailer was shown in the middle of a star-studded line-up of musical acts at the Music Saves Mountains concert at the Ryman. The following night, when Deep Down screened with Coal Country at the historic Belcourt Theater, country music star Kathy Mattea told us, "I had a couple overwhelming waves of emotion during the day," and "It was a moment I'll never forget. I had this moment standing on the stage thinking, this is the moment, where something bigger is happening — where a movement becomes a movement."

Mattea is from West Virginia, and both of her grandfathers were coal miners.  She now speaks (and sings) in support of the Appalachian Mountains and people. She said of Deep Down, "What a powerful film that was. There are so many people like the woman in this film, who have tried to keep their hearts open and still fight against something that they think is wrong. And I have so much respect for them, and I'm humbled by their tirelessness, their fearlessness."

After the show, we shared ideas with Mattea about how nonviolent change occurs, often by focusing on common ground and concerns that we all share as human beings -- safety, health, access to clean drinking water, education, and opportunity. We were surprised to find that most of the audience stayed for the panel discussion with Mattea, Rob Perks from NRDC, the great activist Judy Bonds, Mary Lynn Evans (maker of Coal Country), ourselves, and Terry Ratliff, our subject, asking questions like, "What can we do?" And, "Is this information reaching communities in the coalfields?"  We never thought they'd ask. 

When we began production in 2007, we quickly learned to describe to disbelieving friends and family what mountaintop removal was, before we could describe the storytelling project upon which we had embarked.  Now, in 2010, thanks to some trailblazing advocacy and media attention that has preceded the release of our film, the phrase "mountaintop removal mining" is (almost) a household term — and we can get right down to the business of telling our great little story about a great big thing, while offering a new, more complex, and less stereotypical portrait of Appalachia. Now, as we plan for our national broadcast on Independent Lens this fall, it's just a little easier to envision American families and regular folks gathering around their televisions after dinner to watch Deep Down and connect to people who aren't so different from themselves — articulate, questioning, powerful beings who can use their voices to make a difference in their own communities. 

Jen Gilomen & Sally Rubin Co-Directors, Deep DownDeep Down: a story from the heart of coal country was funded through the ITVS-LINCS initiative and will air on Independent Lens in fall of 2010. To learn more about the film, screenings, and issues, or to host your own community screening, visit


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