"The Last Mountain" was an official selection for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and it's easy to see why. The documentary from director Bill Haney is a sobering look at mountain top coal mining and the effects it's having on Appalachian West Virginia and its people. The film focuses on the battle between the people fighting to not only save the Coal River Mountain, but also put a stop to the mining due to a long list of issues its brought to their community.
Coal River Mountain is the last remaining sizeable mountain in the Appalachian valley that wasn't blown up for coal mining. For some, it helps create a barrier between the blasting zones, protecting the citizens from bad water and dust debris. The people who live in the hollow of the valley have stepped up to stop the mining due to several issues including: harmful residue not only covering their buildings but entering their airwaves, boulders tumbling down the mountainside to their property, the detonation explosives every day, high cancer rates and autism in their communities.
"The Last Mountain," does a great job of presenting the varying personal effects of mountain top coal mining on the community, but also covers a variety of themes surrounding the mining such as political agendas, safety concerns and violations, unions, climate change, health issues, water supply, and ultimately proposed and actual wind farms. What makes "The Last Mountain" as engrossing as it is, is the fact that there is a clear battle taking place, and one that is often taken for granted given that everyone uses power for one thing or another. With "The Last Mountain" you get a glimpse at where your energy comes from, and further still, at what cost.
The documentary includes staggering facts like "almost of half of the electricity in the U.S. comes from burning coal," and "Mountaintop Removal Mining has destroyed 500 Appalachian mountains." While the facts are interesting and important to the documentary, it's the people who come together to share their stories that truly make the film as memorable as it is. Not only are the people of Appalachia fighting for their cause, their home, but activists from elsewhere joined forces to help protest the mountain top mining.
One of the people that helps shape the film and really put some action behind their voice is Robert Kennedy, Jr. He surveys the land from a helicopter and the visual is something to see. Not only are the trees cut down, but the tops of the mountains are blown off. Resident Maria Gunnoe describes it like a layer cake with a "layer of rock, a layer of coal, a layer of rock, a layer of coal... literally reduce the mountain to rubble."
From a look at coal mining and the people living in its midst, "The Last Mountain" does then provide a glimpse at potential for the Appalachian community through wind power with some pretty staggering numbers and statistics. While the film does focus on the environment and the damage mountain top coal mining causes, the real plea is for the people who have lived in the Appalachian Mountains for generations. There are some truly heartbreaking stories and facts that make "The Last Mountain" hard to watch, but certainly worth watching.
VIDEO: Docurama presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a perfectly satisfactory presentation of documentary material. While not crystal clear, the presentation looked crisp and never soft/blurry. Colors looked natural, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack with well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: Outtakes and Deleted Scenes - There are fourteen outtakes/deleted scenes totaling 51 minutes. There's the option to play all or individually, and really this isn't like a fiction film where some scenes may have been unnecessary, these are still interesting pieces that simply didn't make it to the final cut.
Q&A with Director Bill Haney and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. - in a post-screening question and answer session, Director Bill Haney and Robert Kennedy, Jr. talk further about the film topics. The majority of the feature is Haney and Kennedy, Jr. give more of a speech/commentary, but a portion of the feature does include some questions and answers.
Artist PSAs , Official Trailer, Filmmaker Bio and about Docurama are also included.
Final Thoughts: A look at the battle between the people of Appalachia and the coal mining companies, "The Last Mountain" is an engrossing film that presents the stories of the community of people who are coming together not only for their environment, but their health and home.