Overburden (screening)

  • Directed by: Chad A. Stevens 
  • Produced byCatherine Orr and Elena Rue
Released: 2015
Running Time: 65 min
Language:  English
Subjects: Environmental Studies , Conservation & Recreation, Worker's Rights 

The gas that caused the explosion was completely invisible. On April 5, 2010 the men working at the Upper Big Branch mine were doing what they always do, mining coal. But when a spark ignited the methane, a fireball ripped through miles of underground tunnels killing everything it touched, including 29 men. After the explosion, ambulances raced by Betty Harrah’s home. An hour later Betty, a fierce supporter of the coal industry, answered the phone, and as the voice revealed that her brother, Stevie, had died with 28 other men in the largest mining disaster in 40 years, her life changed forever. Yes, as Betty says, “coal is life here,” but, she continues, “Massey Energy murdered my brother.”

It’s not easy to take sides when the only option for a decent wage means putting your life, your home and your community at risk. Lorelei Scarbro knows this better than anyone. Her husband died of Black Lung, and Massey, the fourth largest coal company in the U.S., just announced plans to begin a 6000-acre mining project that would threaten her home. In 2007 Lorelei spoke out for the first time at a public hearing. “This isn’t coal mining,” she yelled. “This is the rape of Appalachia!”

OVERBURDEN is the story of a fiery, pro-coal right-winger and a tenacious, environmentalist grandmother as they take on the most dangerous coal company in America. These two lives intertwine as Betty and Lorelei unite to rebuild their fractured community. Decades after Barbara Kopple filmed HARLAN COUNTY, USA, the coal industry is now facing extinction, and with an increase in alternative energy and the work of these two courageous women, the epicenter of change may just come from the most unexpected place, the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains.


      Reviews / Quotes:

      "Overburden should be required viewing for President Obama, the Congress, and anyone who has ever depended on coal-fired electricity." - Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post        

      “Scarbro, whose husband died from black lung after a career as a coal miner, said that filmmaker Stevens followed her around for so long, she began to forget he was there.“Overburden shows the personal stories of Scarbro’s and Harrah’s lives and the impact of coal.” - The Herald-Sun 

      “highly recommended!”... “Overburden (U.S., 66 min.) — A team of three local filmmakers examines the perils of mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia. But unlike other, similarly themed documentaries, this is not a ranting polemic. It makes its point about a complex issue through emotional intimacy, character and nuance. –LS” - Indyweek

      “Chad A. Stevens has authored a documentary about a problem that needs to be more widely known, about a people who need to be better understood, and about courageous heroism that needs to seen to be believed.” - AE (Audience Everywhere) 

      “What distinguishes Overburden, which is set in West Virginia, from a dozen other documentaries about mountaintop removal is its highly nuanced depiction of a complex issue. The film, which took nearly a decade to finish, is not a polemic. Nonetheless, it projects a clear point of view, one that relies on strong characters to steer through us through the thorny emotional terrain of Appalachian stereotypes, the conflict between insiders vs. outsiders and the diverging opinions about coal’s environmental and economic toll.” - FullFrame

      3 1/2 stars! "Telling a powerful story that will remind some viewers of Barabara Kopple's Oscar-winning 1976 documentary HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A., this fine film mixes gripping personal stories with a look at larger socioeconomic issue. Highly recommend" - Video Librarian