Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  72 minutes
Date:  2006
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 7 - 12, College, Adult
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
Interactive transcript available
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Black Diamonds

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Examines the escalating drama in Appalachia over mountaintop removal mining.

Black Diamonds

BLACK DIAMONDS charts the escalating drama in Appalachia over the alarming increase in large mountaintop coal mines. These mammoth operations have covered 1200 miles of headwater streams with mining waste; demolished thousands of acres of hardwood forest; and flattened hundreds of Appalachian mountain peaks.

Citizen testimony and visual documentation interwoven with the perspectives of government officials, activists, and scientists create a riveting portrait of an American region fighting for its life--caught between the grinding wheels of the national appetite for cheap energy and an enduring sense of Appalachian culture, pride, and natural beauty.

The film includes testimony from Julia Bonds, WV citizen-turned-activist, who received the 2003 Goldman Award (the nation's largest environmental activist award); Ken Hechler, former WV Secretary of State; William Maxey, former Director of WV Division of Forestry; and the many citizens of West Virginia.

NOTE : The director of BLACK DIAMONDS, Catherine Pancake, is available to appear at screenings of this film. Please contact us for details.

No classroom resources available.

No transcript available.

'Unflinching...Looks at coal-mining issues in the twenty-first century, focusing on the destruction that occurs as a result of mountaintop removal and offering a space for the human victims to express their outrage.' Appalachian Voices

'A searing...documentary...mixes history, sociology, advocacy journalism, and personal portraits vividly depicting the catastrophic ecological and cultural effects wrought by mountaintop removal.' Michael Yockel, Baltimore Magazine

'A riveting and ultimately energizing documentary...plays like a modern-day Civil Action , only this time the corporate baddies are the leaders and mouthpieces of the coal industry, and the grass-roots crusaders are poor Appalachian residents who are rich in courage and culture. In a scant hour-plus, Black Diamonds provides a thumbnail economic and political history of coal mining in the state, a textured portrait of Appalachian life and a convincing case for ending the environmental scourge of decapitating mountains to get to the coal buried inside them.' Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

'BLACK DIAMONDS A MASTERPIECE... The Pancake sisters of West Virginia have created the best film to date on the subject of mountaintop removal mining... Presents the first complete overview of the subject... Black Diamonds is an epic film about the monumental collision between the demand for cheap energy and the century-long victims of this demand, the people, the land, the living Appalachian forests, the innocent animals and the very water and air they breathe.' Steve Fesenmaier, Graffiti

'Excellent...This searing documentary...belongs in all libraries (school, public, and university) in the coal mining regions of Appalachia. Other ecologically minded university and college libraries could also benefit from its purchase...I whole-heartedly and enthusiastically recommended this timely and important documentary.' Charles Burkart, Media Bibliographer, West Virginia University, Educational Media Reviews Online

'The film offers a broad view of the history of mountaintop removal mining, detailing the protests, pleas, lawsuits and lobbying being done by local community groups determined to end this horrible mining practice...Pancake interviews activists, politicians, and coal company officials, painting a complete picture of the fight for coal and the demands for justice. As mountains, streams, and an entire culture in Appalachia are sacrificed to extract more coal, Black Diamonds takes an unadulterated view of the real cost of our energy demands.' In Brief, Earthjustice

'America's Appalachian region, particularly West Virginia, has suffered disfigurement which is superbly chronicled in this masterful examination of the causes, effects, and potential solutions to this economic, political, and social crisis...The story presented in this compelling film needs to be shared.' Dwain Thomas, Lake Park High School, School Library Journal

'Black Diamonds' real power comes from accounts by people in the small towns who have literally seen their world ravaged and wrecked by the coal companies...Some 55% of American electricity is generated by coal; in this case, however, the costs acutely outweigh the benefits. Highly Recommended.' Video Librarian, Editor's Choice

'Catherine Pancake makes her film stand out from the rest...appropriate for various audiences, including high school and college students...The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that, in 2030, coal-powered plants will continue to be the leading U.S. source of electricity, so the film should remain relevant for some time' AAAS' Science Books and Films

'Mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia is uprooting not only nature, but people too. Black Diamonds documents the struggles of West Virginia mining towns whose intimate relationship with coal is scraping away their communities. Filmmaker Catherine Pancake interviews residents seeking permanence as eerily close blasts send clouds of particulates over their homes. Impassioned local activists, she reveals, are no match for the coal industry and its allies in the current administration...[Black Diamonds] brings visibility to a group of people whose lives have been marred by the insatiable lust for fuel.' Utne Reader

'Recommended for public library collections on environmental media.' Library Journal


Editor's Choice, Video Librarian
Silver Chris Award, Columbus International Film and Video Festival
Best Documentary, Southern Appalachian International Film Festival
Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media Award
Jack Spadaro Award, Appalachian Studies Conference
Showcase Screening, Columbus International Film and Video Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropological Association Film Festival
Finalist, North American Assn for Environmental Education/Albert I Pierce Foundation Film and Video Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Anchorage International Film Festival
West Virginia International Film Festival
Kansas International Film Festival
Takoma Park Film Festival
Heartwood's Annual Forest Council / Summit for the Mountains
Mountain Summer Justice Film Fest
Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival


Main credits

Pancake, Catherine (Producer)
Pancake, Catherine (Director)
Graham, Lauren (Narrator)

Other credits

Camera, Catherine Pancake, Gretchen Heilman; music, Six Organs of Admittance ... [et al.]; guitar soundtrack, Jack Rose, Andrew Hayleck.

Distributor credits

Catherine Pancake

Catherine Pancake
Research, Consulting, Interviews by Ann Pancake
Graphic Design by Randy Miller
Narrated by Lauren Graham

Docuseek subjects

Mining Sector
Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
American Studies
Environmental Health
Economic Geography
Rural Studies

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Business Practices
Environmental Ethics
Environmental Justice
Human Rights
Local Economies
Natural Resources
Science, Technology, Society
Social Justice
Toxic Chemicals


Appalachia, mountaintop removal, coal mines, underground mining, surface mining, water supplies, headwater streams, hardwood forests, mining waste, cheap energy, Appalachian culture, Julia Bonds, Ken Hechler, William Maxey, West Virginia, strip mining; "Black Diamonds"; Bullfrog Films

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