This news story originally provided by Hampshire Review
March 1, 2006
Black Diamonds A film about WV coal with a local twist
By Don Kesner
Give Catherine Pancake an idea and chances are good that shell turn it into a finished project.
Pancake, a former Romney resident who now lives in Baltimore, Md., has proven that she is not afraid to take on a difficult task, or a controversial issue.
She has also proved that in her latest documentary film,Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Injustice.
The idea began when her sister Ann Pancake, also a former Romney resident who now lives in Seattle, Wash., began a doctoral thesis on Appalachian culture, according to Catherine.
Anns studies took her directly into a culture that very few people know much about, and even fewer seem to care about.That is unless youre very closely affected by it, said Catherine.
One of the largest industries in West Virginia, the Appalachian Mountains are among the countrys richest source and the site of major coal extraction by underground and surface mining.
According to Catherine, Black Diamonds is a film that tells about the destructive mining practices happening in the nations oldest mountain ranges.
Catherine said she saw some of the flyer-over shots of the mountain ranges where strip mining was occurring in counties such as Boone, Logan and Raleigh.
With a background in writing, Ann, who has written her own award winning stories about West Virginias culture, and Catherine, who has a background in filming, the two sisters worked together on research and interviews.
Once the research was completed, Catherine took the ball and ran with putting their findings on film, and carrying the message of mountaintop removal outside the perimeters of the affected counties.
I originally thought I would do a short piece about what was going on, said Catherine. But when I got to that area, saw the sights and talked to the people, the story grew and grew.
Its obvious during an interview with Catherine that she feels deeply the plight of those who have been touched by the double-edged sword of strip mining.
On one hand, it provides jobs for people who otherwise wouldnt have one, said Catherine.
On the other, she said, the long-term effects of strip mining are devastating to the rich land, and the rich Appalachian culture.
Black Diamonds is reportedly the first film of its kind that offers a wholly comprehensive survey of surface mining and mountaintop removal practices in West Virginia.
The documentary film is narrated by television and film star Lauren Graham, known best for her role on the hit series Gilmore Girls.
That, she said, happened because of her brother, Sam Pancake, also formerly of Romney, and an actor in the Los Angeles area.
Catherine directed the film, which is all part of doing what she loves to do.
Although Catherine currently works with a marketing firm, her real passion seems to be making films.
Catherines works have screened at Ohio State University, Philadelphia International Film Festival, Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, Md., and AFI Silver Theater in Silver Springs, Md. and the Millennium Theater in New York City.
According to Catherine, she has always enjoyed doing films as a hobby, but this has been her first feature-length film.
She said she has done short pieces on other controversial films on issues of sexuality and gender.
And Ive done some very abstract pieces that deal with sound and light, said Catherine.
Catherine already has a promoter for the film, and is talking to a distributor who is looking at distributing the film nationwide and possily into Canada.
Black Diamonds will have a work-in-progress screening for West Virginia audiences at the South Charleston Museum on March 11th.[at 7 PM with admissions going to the Sego Mine Disaster families.]
According to Steve Fesenmaier, South Charleston Museum board member, film programmer and 2006 Hero of History, Black Diamonds is a film that is the epic he has been waiting for.
It covers the monumental struggle the people of Appalachia have had with the coal mining industry and the government, Fesenmaier said.
The film, according to Catherine, is now finished, but the final result has been a long time coming.
The sisters began working on the project six years ago.
From 2000 to 2004, it was off and on, and then in 2004 and 2005 I began to seriously edit the film, Catherine said.
Catherines film also has an additional connection to Hampshire County.
A 30-second musical clip in the film was taken from an All Smiles Tonight CD recorded locally. The sound clip was taken from a song performed on the CD by a local father and daughter Pete and Dakota Hobbie.
Catherine said she thought the story of Appalachian culture would be a fun story.
I didnt realize it would be a subject that was so controversial, said Catherine.
According to Catherine, trying to make a living and a full-time career out of filming isnt an easy task.
But, she said that little by little she hopes to work more as a filmmaker and less in marketing.
Then again, knowing how to market a project is as important as knowing how to produce one.
For Catherine, she would like to stick to the production part, and leave the marketing to someone else.
Catherine and Ann are the daughers of Joe and Robin Pancake of Romney.