‘Coal Country’ debuts to large, but calm, crowd
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There were two sides to most everything at the world premiere of “Coal Country” at the West Virginia Cultural Center on Saturday night.
Eddie Morris, of Alum Creek, knew both well.
For the past five years, he’s worked as a coal miner and he’s the younger brother of “Coal Country” producer, Mari-Lynn Evans. She is also the producer of the public television series “The Appalachians.”
A standing-room-only crowd attended the premiere without incident. People who represent sides of the issue of mountaintop-removal mining were well represented, though divided.
Evans commended those who helped her with the film, including former Secretary of State Ken Hechler, an opponent of the practice. At the mention of his name, many of the crowd applauded, but a small part of the audience reacted negatively. It was a tense moment, but there was no serious confrontation between the two sides of the issue of mountain top removal mining.
In the cultural center lobby, coal miners and their families talked among themselves on one side of the room and environmentalists and others on the other side.
Morris and his wife sat on one of the many wooden benches in the lobby, away from most of the crowd.
During production, he helped his sister along, but he never appears onscreen.
“I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how it goes,” he said.
The documentary was originally set to screen at the South Charleston Museum, but after reports of security concerns, the theater was unwilling to host the film.
Evans said she was surprised to hear that people would protest the film. She didn’t expect any sort of protest to happen Saturday night.
Randall Maggard, manager of environmental compliance at Argus Energy, is featured in the film, talking about the coal industry as a miner of 26 years.
“I just hope we can get our point across,” he said. “I think some of the miners feel like they aren’t really appreciated.”
He heard about the possibility of a protest, but felt it was a rumor blown out of proportion.
When he saw the advance screening of the documentary, he called Evans and was upset. But after blowing off some steam, he realized that there was a direction the filmmakers wanted to go.
“You don’t always get a chance to refute every fact in the movie,” he said.
Still, he hoped that he and the other miners attending would be represented well and fairly. Whether the screening or the gathering of everyone under one roof for two hours will stimulate dialogue, he didn’t know.
“It’s a continuing chapter and we’re going to disagree for some time,” he said.
Wilford Hardman of Radnor drives coal trucks for KCT. He decided to come up and give the movie a look. Despite the longstanding differences between the different sides of the issue, he said getting everyone under the same roof is a good thing.
“There’s always room for people to come together. Whether they do or not, I don’t really know,” he said.
Staff writer Douglas Imbrogno / The Charleston Gazette Blog