Most of us are hooked up to locations, whether or not it’s someplace we’ve lived for a very long time or a favourite vacation spot. Some, nonetheless, have a more in-depth bond to particular locales due to cultural affinity and a way of non secular belonging. In director/co-writer Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s King Coal, a documentary on the outsized significance positioned upon the titular useful resource, the bond is ironclad for the inhabitants of Appalachia. It’s a particular place, although one which will likely be alien to many viewers.
Filmed largely in West Virginia, the movie is an ethereal journey into what coal and its extraction means to the group of blue-collar miners and inhabitants of mining cities. Coal mining isn’t glamorous, and it’s among the many most harmful professions conceivable, contemplating the chance of methane explosions and different disasters round each nook. However there’s an obsessive pleasure in it for these concerned, even within the face of dire existential questions amid a motion away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels. For many of us, it’s a grimy rock, the abuse of which is accelerating local weather change. For them, it’s a defining attribute of their id.
“…what coal and its extraction means to the group of blue-collar miners…”
Sheldon’s narration makes it clear that she’s happy with her dwelling state (maybe the epicenter of the coal mining business). The id disaster of the locale is the guts of the narrative and the closest bonds we type as viewers are with two younger ladies, Lanie Marsh and Gabrielle Wilson, who dream of getting away from it. They’re contrasted with different residents, the hard-working salt-of-the-earth sorts which have traditionally outlined the group. We spend a quick sequence with one man getting an intricate tattoo of a miner on his bicep. He recounts how he’s the third technology of his household to be a miner, in addition to horrific tales of fellow miners getting injured.
Memorable sequences of King Coal embody a visit down a coal mine, with photos of black rock formations not not like one thing H.R. Giger would contribute to an entry within the Alien franchise. It’s onerous to not interpret the darkish tunnels as one thing akin to a pure hell on (or underneath) Earth. But, Sheldon is certain to remind us that coal is shaped from the detritus of forests from tens of millions of years in the past. What as soon as was inexperienced and luxurious turns into the stuff of nightmares. It’s an interesting documentary, however there are occasions when the filmmaker may need been higher served by maintaining it extra grounded within the experiences and personalities of the people concerned as an alternative of the frequent philosophical musings.
For these of us dwelling elsewhere, it’s simple to overlook that whereas the coal business as we all know it’s in flux, these modifications could have critical penalties for scores of households throughout Appalachia. King Coal is a strong documentary on a comparatively area of interest matter. Nevertheless, if one travels down the mine shaft, one will discover a glimpse right into a world most of us don’t have numerous perception into. And that’s what one of the best documentaries do — bridge gaps, inform, and unify.
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