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ACFF 2015 opens with WV-centered films

By Staff | Oct 2, 2015

The 13th annual American Conservation Film Festival opens on Friday, Oct. 23, with a block dedicated to some of the most pressing issues facing West Virginia’s residents, environment, and economy. Environmental and economic degradation and compromised water quality are not new threats in West Virginia, but the three films featured in this block cast new light and personal perspectives on them. Mari-Lynn Evans returns to ACFF for the third time; this time with her new film Blood on the Mountain, a searing investigation into the economic and environmental injustices that have resulted from industrial control in West Virginia. Evans’ first two documentaries, Coal Country and The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier were enthusiastically received by large audiences at past ACF Festivals and Blood on the Mountain has been filling large venues in and outside of West Virginia since its release last year. The film is co-directed by Jordan Freeman and features Shepherdstown attorney Davitt McAteer, a former federal mine safety chief and assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Blood on the Mountain tells the honest history of West Virginia, the human struggle that has always ranged between repression and resistance — courageous coal miners fighting bloody battles for union representation and fair wages and work conditions, fighting battles between themselves and, ultimately, waging a war on the mountains and communities themselves as strip miners. It’s a legacy of a century-long war of attrition by revolving coal companies to break down and divide the people, their communities, and their land,” says Evans. Thanks to its historical perspective, the film keeps hope alive in the coalfields, reminding viewers of the inspiring continuum of the Blair Mountain labor uprising in 1921, the victory of Miners for Democracy and Black Lung legislation, and today’s fearless campaigns against mountaintop-removal mining.

Immediately following the film, screening at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies on the Shepherd University campus, will be a brief Q and A discussion with the filmmakers, as well as Mary Anne Hitt , Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and Davitt McAteer.

The second film of this West Virginia block is Elk River Blues, inspired by the MCHM chemical spill into the Elk River in January 2014. The spill quickly overwhelmed the local distribution system and left 300,000 residents without water. Filmmaker and producer Mike Youngren jumped on the story and captured much of the immediate aftermath to create this powerful story of systemic failure that “was the inevitable consequence of a culture of lax regulation and legislative oversight,” according to WV Rivers Coalition executive director Angie Rosser.

A 2-minute short film called Poisoned: WV Water Crisis, profiling one family’s story of how the chemical spill affected them, closes out the block.

Immediately following the films, the filmmakers and special guests will be available for a second Q and A session. Everyone is then invited to Domestic bar and restaurant to Get Shaken and Stirred with ACFF at Tito’s Night, where special cocktails, light hors d’oeuvres and a late night dinner menu will be offered.

Another excellent West Virginia-based film screens on Saturday, October 24, at the National Conservation Training Center at 4:15pm. Overburden, directed by Chad Stevens, profiles a pro-coal activist who joins forces with a tree-hugging environmentalist to take on Massey Energy after her brother is killed in a mining disaster. This screening, offered on a ‘pay as you can’ basis, is the West Virginia premier and people associated with the film will be attending. Audiences moved to act will be offered “action opportunities” on the ACFF website to learn more about how to get involved with protecting the environment.

Tickets for these and 42 other films from around the globe are currently available online at www.conservationfilm.org.