CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Robert F. “Bob” Gates Jr., a noted West Virginia filmmaker who focused on the impacts of mining on coalfield residents and the environment, died Saturday at the age of 69.
Gates helped found the West Virginia Filmmakers Guild. He also was a member of various environmental groups over the years, including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
“Bob really enjoyed making films,” Molly Moorhead, Gates’ wife since 1993, said Monday. “The films he made show his own views and passions. He felt they had to be made. He was a great guy.”
Gates worked as a chemical and computer engineer for Union Carbide until 1971, when he was laid off. Soon after, he became a full-time photographer and filmmaker, shooting video as well as recording music and sound tracks for his movies.
A day after Pittston Coal’s sludge dams collapsed at the head of Buffalo Creek on Feb. 26, 1972, Gates visited the 17-mile-long hollow in Logan County.
Gates took scores of photographs — on the ground and in the air — documenting the devastation created by the flooded river, which killed 125 people and left thousands homeless. He later released a DVD featuring many of the photographs he took.
In 1977, Gates released his first film, “In Memory of the Land and People” — about the environmental damages caused by strip mining in Appalachia and other areas of the country. The music of composer Béla Bartók, local songs and comments from local people are featured throughout the film.
Steve Fesenmaier, a film historian who worked for the West Virginia Library Commission for 31 years, wrote that the film was shown in Congress and helped motivate national legislation regulating strip mining.
Gates later produced two more films about the impacts of mountaintop removal mining — “All Shaken Up: Mountaintop Removal Blasting and Its Effects on Coalfield Residents” and “Mucked.”a