The rhapsodic film King Coal blurs the lines of documentary and memorializes the coal culture that has shaped Appalachia
The film-maker Elaine McMillion Sheldon grew up roving around West Virginia. Like many children of Appalachia, her world was shaped by coal – her father worked for a mining company, and the family moved to seven coal fields in 12 years for his job. Her brother became a fourth-generation miner. “Everybody in my community worked in the coal mines,” she said. “If you were going to stay there and work, if you weren’t a doctor or a lawyer, that’s what you did.”
It wasn’t until she studied abroad as an undergraduate and asked people what they did for work that she realized the totalizing extent of coal. “Not everywhere has a king,” said Sheldon. “Not everywhere is completely dominated by this industry that controls everything from our rituals to the ways we live our life.”
Sheldon’s new documentary, King Coal, blooms in the resource’s shadow. It’s a lyrical and visually lush ode to a region of immense richness, to mountains riven by extractive industry, to identity-shaping labor and unions, to the inheritance of coal culture. There are no location markers, no delineation between towns, states, mines, mountains.
“We just define it as the kingdom,” said Sheldon, a common culture and economy without strict borders. (She filmed throughout Appalachia, which includes south-western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, all of West Virginia, south-western Virginia, western North Carolina and east Tennessee.) Much has been distorted about Appalachia in the national imagination – as the nation’s spiritless furnace, as the model of sensationalized white poverty, as a looking glass into the “beating heart” of Trumpism.
For the rest of this article: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2023/aug/08/king-coal-documentary-appalachia