Monday, May 4, 2009

Coal’s Powerful, Tragic History:New Documentary Film “Out of the Ground”

Hello World Family,
Falcon here wishing you a happy week. We hope you had a wonderful weekend. It was wonderful here: Kennywood Park opened, the Pittsburgh Marathon was a HUGE success, the Pittsburgh Symphony had another stellar performance, and the Concert for the Homeless, as well as John Fetterman’s (Mayor of Braddock) event were well received.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to travel to Johnstown for a wonderful documentary film premiere at the Johnstown Heritage Center (which is about to open its new Children’s Museum!).

Out of the Ground is a stunning documentary film journey by first-time film maker/biologist Andrew McAllister. Once again proving that science and art should never be compartmentalized, McAllister delivers a historical perspective that is wise, reflective, sometimes raw, and painfully honest about the tremendous sacrifices made by Americans in Southwestern PA of all ethnic groups as they struggled to build a better life on the surface of the earth by harvesting coal in an unimaginable Hades, bringing prosperity to the Industrial Age and a modest way of life to families in the region.

Andy is Watershed Coordinator for The Western PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, but did this film truly as a labor of love. His research and interviews with experts and treatment of archived material brings to life the sacrifice and trials of the industry from the late 18th Century through the 1950’s. It is unflinching in its examination of the greed in the U.S., ignorance or inattention to safety and xenophobia in the treatment of some workers. It honors the sacrifice of our ancestors, and shows their courage, willingness to work hard, and their sorrow in incomprehensive loss.

The film was encouraged with support from Andy’s boss, Bruce Golden, Regional Coordinator for WPCAMR. The intoxicating music was performed by the extraordinary guitarist Ken Bonfield, a self-taught artist who uses themes found in Celtic, American Folk, Blues, Jazz, Classical, even Rock and Roll. His pieces flow effortlessly around the archived footage and images of ancestors that are now personal and emotional again. This is not nostalgia, but a humble honoring of our troubled origins, sometimes the first jobs held by our predecessors, and in some dangerous instances, their last.

Every part of the film moves graciously, yet deliberately through the aristocracy and the abject poverty. The history is framed well, and covers the largest bituminous coal region of southwestern PA very well. McAllister presents the work and play of families of the period. It all at once leaves you feeling proud, awed, and sad at our enjoined history.

The film is the perfect length for most competitive film festivals, and should be seen by many people as soon as possible. Falcon and Dove will keep you updated on when and where this extraordinary project can be viewed. Stay tuned…
Falcon and Dove

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for coming and for posting this review! We at the Johnstown Area Heritage Association shared your high opinion of the film, and were honored to host its premiere.

We plan to show it as part of the Johnstown Film & Wine Festival, which is held July 8-11; although it's too long to be part of our film shorts competition, Andy McAllister has agreed to be part of a panel discussion for new and aspiring filmmakers. We are arranging for a showcase of films by our panelists, and "Out of the Ground" will be part of that. Schedule has yet to emerge, but stay tuned -- you can follow the Johnstown Area Heritage Association on Facebook, or go to, or sign up for e-mail updates at

Best wishes,
Shelley Johansson