Monday, January 24, 2011

Coal Summit Draws Journalist and Filmmakers To Discuss the Toll of Strip Mining on Communities, February 8 and 9

View Photos: On Coal River | Documentary Workshop | Reckoning at Eagle Creek

CHESTERTOWN—Washington College launches a series on labor journalism Tuesday evening, February 8 with the screening of a documentary film about one community’s experience with strip mining, followed the next afternoon by a reading from a recent book about the human costs of extracting coal.

The program, Coal Summit: Unearthing the High Price of Energy Independence, begins with the screening of On Coal River at 7 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts on the College campus (300 Washington Avenue). A Q & A session with filmmakers Adams Wood and Francine Cavanaugh will follow the screening. Michael Buckley, program manager for the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will serve as moderator.

On Wednesday afternoon, February 9, award-winning journalist Jeff Biggers will read from his 2010 book, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (Nation), at the Rose O'Neill Literary House, 407 Washington Avenue. The reading will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will be followed by a book signing.

On Coal River features a group of activists in West Virginia's Coal River Valley who unite to move a school they fear is imperiled by ever-increasing amounts of toxic mining wastewater building up behind an earthen dam. Filmmakers Cavanaugh and Wood tell their story with compelling characters, and the cinematography captures the beauty of the mountains and the wreckage left by strip-mining. The film makes the health costs of silica dust in the air and toxic chemicals in the water horrifyingly personal. The Huffington Post called it "a the most inspiring and triumphant story of a possible clean energy future."

Prior to their work on On Coal River, Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood co-directed and produced Boom—The Sound of Eviction (2002), a feature-length documentary about the social repercussions of San Francisco's dot-com boom and bust; and Miami Model (2003), about the negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americans pact and the protests and police response it sparked

While on campus, Cavanaugh and Wood, who grew up in Queen Anne’s County, will partner with Washington College technology instructors Brian Palmer and Nancy Cross to offer a student workshop on documentary filmmaking

The next day’s special guest, Jeff Biggers, is author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek, The United States of Appalachia (Counterpoint, 2007) and In the Sierra Madre (Illinois, 2007). He has worked as a writer, educator, and radio correspondent across the United States, Europe, India, and Mexico. His award-winning stories have been heard on National Public Radio and Public Radio International, and have appeared in print and online journals such as The Washington Post, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and Salon. A contributing editor to The Bloomsbury Review, he regularly blogs for Huffington Post and Grist.

Biggers is also a playwright and a member of the multimedia theatre performance company The Coal Free Future Project. His work has received numerous honors, including an American Book Award, the David Brower Award for Environmental Reporting, a Plattner Award for Appalachian Literature, and the Delta Award for Southern Illinois literature.

While on campus, Biggers will meet with students in a literature class taught be Mark Nowak, the director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House.

The semester-long "New Labor Journalism" series will examine how the media investigates and reports on the effects of the current economy on working people, immigrant workers, and the working poor. Journalists and photojournalists from The Washington Post, The Nation, Huffington Post, NPR, and social media networks will be visiting the Rose O'Neill Literary House for readings, talks, and panel discussions.

The New Labor Journalism series will continue on February 28 with a visit by Pulitzer Prize-winning collaborators Dale Maharidge, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, and Michael Williamson, a Washington Post photographer. On April 13, a "New Labor Journalism" symposium moderated by radio host Marc Steiner of Baltimore’s WEAA radio will feature authors Gabriel Thompson (Working in the Shadows) and Kari Lydersen (Revolt at Goose Island).

The programs are sponsored by Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and Rose O’Neill Literary House. Attendance at Coal Summit is free and open to the public.

Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Learn more on The Chestertown Spy.