Director’s Statement

I want to know what the world will look like without fossil fuels. To explore this idea, I am making After Coal: Welsh and Appalachian Mining Communities. This documentary begins in the narrow valleys of South Wales, where the coalfields shut down a generation ago. The story then moves to the hollows of central Appalachia where a handful of coal towns are hanging on to an uncertain future.

First impressions of the two regions are strikingly similar: steep hillsides, small villages, and the skeletons of industrial architecture reveal the common history of coal in both regions. But, there are important differences. While most Welsh coalmines were shut down in 1985, Appalachian coal reserves are just now starting to dwindle. Today, Appalachian mining towns are facing a double threat of chronic unemployment and environmental devastation.

What happens when fossil fuels such as coal and oil are depleted? How do miners and other working people create more sustainable livelihoods? To explore the challenges facing communities in transition, I will juxtapose location footage and rare historic film from the coalfields of Wales and Kentucky to tell the story of the workers who are the first to face the limits of our fossil fueled economy.

After Coal will explore both the successes and the failures of Welsh programs to clean up mine waste, retrain miners, and develop wind farms – comparing these efforts to similar projects planned in Appalachia. The language and music specific to each culture will underscore stories of tragedy laced with hope, revealing the uncommon strength that has allowed these two cultures to survive in the harshest of conditions. I believe that comparing the Welsh and Appalachian experience with coal will help us see a world beyond fossil fuels.

– Tom Hansell June, 2011

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