‘Low Coal’ steals show at Short Film Festival

The Gluck Theatre presented its Second Annual West Virginia Mountaineer Short Film Festival this weekend.

One film stood apart from the 89 other incredible entries. “Low Coal” was showcased as the lone feature-length film, clocking in at 85 minutes. The movie featured countless short stories about the families touched by the industry, all strung together by a single thread proving that when it comes to coal, something needs to change.

Directed by Jordan Freeman, the film was four years in the making. Beginning as a series of three-to-ten minute Youtube shorts, it evolved into something more. Freeman was on hand during the event to discuss how he began to connect the pieces, and a larger story developed.

“I didn’t come at it with the idea of ‘This is the story I want to tell,'” Freeman said.

He began by making connections with the people of the area. The film tells the stories of a family cemetery threatened by mountain top removal, a worker who only received three days’ pay and a $25 turkey voucher before being let go after he received a brain injury in the mine and of security workers-turned-advocates against companies like Massey Energy.

It took time for Freeman to build the relationships, as individuals allowed themselves to be filmed about their experiences. “I started by making friends,” Freeman said. “I’d spend at least 10 to 15 hours with someone before even breaking out the camera. For one thing, it’s the right thing to do.” Freeman moved to West Virginia from California and discovered coal was more than a big corporation with destructive machinery – there were real people with real lives behind it. He decided to create the documentaries not as a form of protest, but to spread the word and tell others’ stories.

Gerald Habarth, festival organizer and professor of electronic media at the West Virginia  University Division of Art and Design, arranged a section of the festival to be dedicated to the issue of energy in the state. “I chose ‘Low Coal’ because of its interesting perspective on the issue,” Habarth said.  Michael Fairless, a junior electronic media major and student filmmaker whose film “Not Your Mom’s Energy” was featured at the festival, said he was impressed by the way Freeman’s film looked at regular people.

“It’s a great little documentary,” Fairless said. “He did a good job at giving a voice to people who normally wouldn’t get a voice.” It’s not just the pristine beauty of the mountains that needs to be preserved, but the wellbeing and the history of the people that live in them.  “Putting in the time and having the respect for the people you’re filming turns the finished product into a good story and a truer story,” Freeman said.

Not only true of films, but of life, it’s the people who make the difference in the coal mines, and the story is told in “Low Coal.”


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