Section: Arts

From the Ashes offers nuanced take on failing coal industry

“You have kids, and you go to work one day and they say, well, you don’t work here no more,” Cecil Lily said. Lily’s family was impacted by the declining coal mining industry, and they were part of the documentary From the Ashes. “And you’ve got to go home and face your family and say to them that you don’t have the job no more,” Lily said. The coal industry employs 50,300 people as of Feb. 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From the Ashes, directed by Michael Bonfigilo, played on campus on Wednesday, Oct. 25. It follows the coal and mining industry’s impact on the character, health, climate and wealth of our country. The aim of the film is to move beyond the rhetoric of the war on coal and empathize with every effect of America’s shifting value of coal. The Office of the President sponsored the screening.

Presented by National Geographic Channel at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, From the Ashes demonstrates both the consequences of pulling away from the coal and mining industries and the detriments of clinging to them. The documentary particularly focuses on the automatization of the coal industry, and President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the country out of the Paris Climate Agreement and to focus on expanding the coal industry. More generally, it addresses the issue of global climate change.

To share the stories of communities left behind and the impact taken on the health of individuals and the environment, the filmmakers traveled across the country and met the cast of characters that make up the groups surrounding American coal. The film interviews families, experts, climate scientists and lobbyists by visiting Trump rallies, abandoned towns, demonstrations, natural disaster sites and hospital beds. Through these accounts, the audience sees the expansive role the industry plays in American culture.

This campus screening was made possible through Bloomberg Philanthropies, the same organization that helped produce the film in collaboration with Radical Media. President Sean Decatur said that the opportunity to screen From the Ashes was brought to the College by a member of the Board of Trustees, Nina P. Freedman ’77 H’92, who he said works with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“Given the sort of timely topic, [Freedman] thought there may be some interest among students and faculty in seeing it on campus,” he said.

From the Ashes was shown at ​8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Community Foundation Theater in the Gund Gallery.


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at