I am continuing to work on Goodbye Gauley Mountain, the documentary video project for which I received SRG funding last year. This compelling story portrays one of the most economically depressed areas in the United States and the strife that global corporations inflict on small communities by destroying their commons and rending their social fabric in order to gain short-term, large-scale financial profit. The documentary explores the devastating environmental and cultural effects of mountain top removal (MTR) strip mining in West Virginia. It focuses on Gauley Mountain, which is currently being mined by MTR. Gauley Mountain was also the site of the 1920’s Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster, one of America’s worst industrial catastrophes. Hundreds of African Americans and immigrants died blasting and breathing the mountain’s pure silica,
This project is midway through its production. I have interviewed people about the connections between the current environmental destruction and community damage caused by MTR and Hawk’s Nest. I’ve also continued to gather footage and still images throughout the year. The juxtaposition of the region’s rugged beauty, home to possibly the oldest river (New River) and the second richest bio-diverse area after the Amazon in the western hemisphere, will situate this story.
Proposed Research. Please describe your proposed research in 500 words or less.
My mountain top removal (MTR) research began while flying over the coalfields of southern WV in 2007. Although I had grown up around coal mining, I was shocked at the enormous scale and number of MTR mining sites stretching out below me. Over the past thirty years the changes in the scale of mining technologies are almost unimaginable. I have since visited several MTR sites, accompanied by reclamation experts, environmental activists and local community members. Close examination of reclaimed sites makes it clear that once explosives and large-scale mining equipment have dropped the elevation of a mountain several hundred feet, it can never be returned to its “approximate original contours” (or previous levels of biodiversity) as dictated by federal mining regulations. Unreclaimed sites are wastelands. When blasting for MTR began on Gauley Mountain in 2008, this issue became personal as well as political. My family has lived in the shadow of this mountain since the 1930’s.
1. Bringing national and international attention to the environmental and cultural degradation caused by MTR. I currently address MTR in my international performance/theater work as well as through lectures, interviews and writing. 2. Create a digital video that explores the beauty of Appalachia and tells the story of MTR by combining my recognized artistic expertise with an experimental documentary film style to visually convey this tragedy to a broad audience including (but not limited to), activists, community organizations, academics and hopefully government officials. 3. Meet with individuals and organizations involved in this struggle between the coal industry and local communities to learn more about MTR and related issues.
Over the past year I have conducted numerous interviews with persons involved in opposing MTR ranging from former West Virginia Secretary of State, Ken Heckler to former federal mining inspector Jack Spadero, (who was illegally fired in the nineties for insisting that mining violations be cited, fined, and corrected). I’ve deepened my connections with members of activist groups including Larry Gibson of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and with the Goldman Environmental awardees, Judy Bonds, (of Coal River Mountain Watch) and Maria Gunnoe (of the Ohio River Valley Environmental Coalition). I’ve begun working with Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco. I am also interviewing miners, community members and family on both sides of this issue. As a native West Virginian I have access to a world that is often closed to and/or misrepresented by outsiders. Through exploring how the commons, the watersheds, and the communities of the Appalachian Mountains are being destroyed in the name of so-called cheap coal; I intend to help awaken the American public to the true cost and long-term consequences of MTR and how as a nation we must begin to consider non-greenhouse alternative fuel sources. There is no such thing as clean coal and the illusion that there is, is deadly.
Schedule: 2009: Spring: began developing filming plans. Summer: exploratory filming Fall: reviewed footage. 2010: Winter: continue researching environmental ramifications of MTR. Spring: Attend Mountain Justice Summer Conference. Summer: finish shooting. Fall: Log and Edit. 2011: Winter: fundraising. Spring: Final editing. Summer/Fall: Projected completion and release.
Previous SRG Award.. Provide a report on the status of any research project funded by a previous SRG award during the last five years. The project Goodbye Gauley Mountain is still in process but well underway. 1. Shooting had begun 2. I’ve formed a film crew I can work with in WV 3. I continue to make contacts that will both make this documentary possible in terms of my being able to film certain sites and people but also these contacts will allow me to interview them for the piece itself 4. I will be living in WV this summer to finish up the shooting After this the editing will begin. I will fund raise the additional money I need for post production. 5. Finish and distribute Goodbye Gauley Mountain.
2008-09-Rebuilding a Mountain- This was the beginning of my research into MTR. This research has included visiting, photographing sites I have also read a great deal about the subject over the last two years. This is a huge field.
2007-08-Exposed, Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art-this particular performance is retired now. We did tour it in many major cities in both Europe and the United States. We also got a great deal of critical acclaim including a substantial positive New York Times review by Christopher Isherwood.
Video Editor: As in almost all film production, a professional video editor will be necessary during the later phases of editing this project. Initially, I will edit together and decide the order and rhythm of scenes and shots but the next phase of editing will require a professional. Working with an editor will guarantee that this piece has the high quality appearance that broadcast digital video demands. I have located an editor who believes in this project and will work for $20 per hour. This is an extremely economical rate. I estimate that it will take 45-50 hours or editing work to shape the work into a rough cut edit that I can then use to raise post production funds in order to complete the piece. Luckily I have also located a sound engineer, David Benjamin Steinberg, who has agreed to donate his labor to create the soundtrack of this piece. This will save a tremendous amount of money. I am requesting funding from COR to cover most of the hours necessary to produce a rough cut version of Goodbye Gauley Mountain. I have received some additional funding this year from the Arts Research Institute, ($2000) to continue working on this project. A small portion of this budget ($300) is loosely allocated and could be used to cover any shortfalls in my editing budget if necessary.
Final Cut Pro Academic Version: I need to update my Final Cut Pro (Academic Version) in order to accommodate the footage that I will be shooting with a high definition (HD) camera. The newest version of Final Cut is designed to better handle high definition footage than the older version I have. While in the field I will need to have the software loaded on my computer so that I can experiment with ideas that might affect my video shooting. Additionally, I am better able to accomplish my research in my own studio/lab as opposed to using student labs that may already have this software. I will be living in West Virginia for two months this summer and will begin the editing process while there.
Additional Budget Justification
If COR funding was secured for work related to that requested in the current application, you must explain how the current request (and associated research) differs from earlier requests.
$8000 – 2009-10 Goodbye Gauley Mountain $2000 – 2008-9 Rebuilding a Mountain $1995 – 2007-8 Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art
I am requesting this funding from COR in order to edit Goodbye Gauley Mountain into a rough cut high definition digital video. I will then use that to secure the additional funding necessary to bring this project to its highest level of production and completion. It typically takes three to four years to finish a documentary work of this length and complexity. This project in particular has involved quite a lot of travel, networking and meeting with potential collaborators in order to help me gain access to the mining sites, people who are involved on both sides of the MTR debate.
The producers of the highly acclaimed film, Coal Country, have invited my collaborator and I to submit materials in order to create a film treatment about our environmental art works and performances to be featured on ether HBO or Showtime. These producers believe that the creative manner in which we engage the environmental debate deserves widespread attention. When this project comes to fruition, Goodbye Gauley Mountain, will be prominently featured thus bringing the project national and international mass media exposure.
In addition to the labor I am dedicating to this film, I continue to tour my current collaborative performance, “Dirty Sexecology: 25 Ways to Make Love to the Earth.” So far we have performed this piece in Berne, (Switzerland), Madrid, (Spain), Vienna, (Austria), and Boston, (USA). This performance is, in large part, dedicated to engaging the environmental effort to slow the accelerating degradation that is negatively affecting the entire planet. This degradation is evidenced through various global health crises, in increased world-wide poverty, and through global warming. A large segment of this particular performance is devoted to representing and critiquing MTR through action, music, projected images and spoken word. Additionally, this past fall I began pursing a PhD at UC Davis. There I plan to pursue a designated major in Environmental Studies while gaining my main degree in Performance Studies. At Davis I am actively collaborating with professors in the Ecology Department on art/science projects and brainstorming around future collaborations. This work is enabling me to learn the scientific side of the systematic damage that MTR causes and the global consequences it represents as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the theoretical constructs of power.