ON COAL RIVER follows a former coal miner and his neighbors in a
David-and-Goliath struggle for the future of their valley, their children, and life as
they know it.

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Battling a Corporate Goliath

Ed Wiley is a former coal miner who once worked at a toxic waste facility that now threatens his granddaughter’s elementary school. When his local government refuses to act, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. With insider knowledge and a sharp sense of right and wrong, Ed confronts his local school board, state government, and a notorious coal company — Massey Energy — for putting his granddaughter and his community at risk.

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ON COAL RIVER takes viewers on a gripping emotional journey into the Coal River Valley of West Virginia — a community surrounded by lush mountains and a looming toxic threat. The film follows a former coal miner and his neighbors in a David-and-Goliath struggle for the future of their valley, their children, and life as they know it.

Ed Wiley is a former coal miner who once worked at a toxic waste facility that now threatens his granddaughter’s elementary school. When his local government refuses to act, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. With insider knowledge and a sharp sense of right and wrong, Ed confronts his local school board, state government, and a notorious coal company — Massey Energy — for putting his granddaughter and his community at risk.

Along the way, Ed is supported by his neighbors Bo Webb and Judy Bonds, who have their own problems with Massey Energy. Ex-marine Bo Webb retired to his childhood home only to discover that this once-idyllic valley is being transformed by a company practicing “mountaintop removal” – blowing up mountains to extract coal. Bo’s neighbor Judy Bonds was forced to leave her ancestral home when the same company opened a mine next door – sending dangerous black water down the creek where her grandson played. Together, Bo and Judy help Ed bring attention to the dangers at Marsh Fork Elementary, hoping that if they save the school, they can save the valley.

Across the river, Maria Lambert recognizes a pattern in the unusual health problems plaguing her community. Following intuition, and what she describes as a mission from above, Maria gathers evidence suggesting the state’s largest mining company has contaminated her neighborhood’s water supply.
Shot over a five year period, ON COAL RIVER follows the transformation of these four remarkable individuals as they fight for the valley they love and for future generations — making dramatic changes against all odds.


The Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia is an area of steep terrain and diverse biology, comprising some of the oldest mountains in the world. It is also an area containing vast amounts of coal – the fossil fuel that currently powers just under 50% of domestic electricity. Commercial mining began here in the 1850s and has continued through repeated cycles of boom and bust, mine wars and strikes, and the relentless march of mechanization.

Today, new mining and processing methods are taking a heavy toll on the Valley’s environment and its residents. Coal companies are practicing ‘mountaintop removal’ and other forms of steep-slope strip mining, using huge machines and explosives to extract thin seams of coal. Some estimate that these practices have already destroyed over 500,000 acres of land and buried 2000 miles of streams. After extraction, the mine plants crush and chemically “wash” the coal to remove toxins then pumping the waste into large manmade lakes or underground into old abandoned mine shafts.

Coal River Valley’s population continues to decline due to increase in mechanized mining and loss of jobs —both of its high schools have closed since 1991. Those who remain love their community and want to stay, but they are split in their opinions about how to continue to live here. Many believe without coal mining, there is no economic future for their community. Others believe that if left unchecked, mining impacts on the land and water will make their valley unlivable for themselves and for future generations.

On Coal River Directors



FRANCINE CAVANAUGH (Director/Producer/Editor) and ADAMS WOOD (Director/Producer/DP) previously co-directed and produced BOOM – THE SOUND OF EVICTION (2002), a feature-length documentary about the social repercussions of San Francisco’s dot-com boom and bust, which Variety called “a powerful cautionary statement.”

Their second feature, ON COAL RIVER (2010), premiered at AFI/Silverdocs, screened at numerous other festivals and on Capitol Hill, and was nominated for an IFP/Gotham Award. Adams began making documentaries in the Idaho wilderness in 1996, and Francine found her way to film through theater and dance in 1999. They currently live in Asheville, NC with their 6-year old son.



Jillian’s work as Co-producer and Director of Photography of “Whatever It Takes” (airing on PBS Independent Lens, 2010) brought her to the South Bronx to film the changing landscape of urban education in NYC. “Whatever it Takes” received support from the Sundance Documentary Fund and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and won the audience award at the International Asian American Film Festival. Jillian worked as Director of Photography and Editor of a narrative feature directed by actor J. Robert Spencer (Jersey Boys), as a Director for Roulette TV, as a camerawoman and field producer at Democracy Now!, and as a Director of Photography for Academy Award winning filmmaker, Alex Gibney, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch.

Consulting Editor


Mary was co-editor of Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award winning film “Harlan County, USA.” She was the co-producer and editor with Emile de Antonio and Haskell Wexler of “Underground” and edited several more de Antonio films. She recently edited Anne Makepeace’s “Rain in a Dry Land” and Julia Reichart’s Emmy-nominated film “A Lion in the House.” She also served as additional editor for “Trouble the Water,” (Special Jury Prize Winner, Sundance 2008.) Mary began her editing career with Ricky Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker as an associate editor on “Monterey Pop” and “One P.M.,” a film by Jean-Luc Godard.

Sound Editor/Mixer/Designer


Sound designer of “Special” (Sundance 2006), sound designer of installation work by Hungarian filmmaker, Peter Forgac, appearing at the Getty Center. In 2006 Adam directed and edited sound an academy-award nominated animated short, “The Wraith of Cobble Hill,” (Jury Prize Sundance Film Festival 2006.)



Steven has been hailed by critics as “one of the most promising young film composers on the scene today” and “at the forefront of a new generation of film composers.” His credits include “The Pursuit of Happiness,” (New Orleans, Big Bear Film Festival) “Trekkies,” (Hamptons, AFI Los Angeles) and “The Wraith of Cobble Hill.” (Sundance, SXSW)

Executive Producers


Deann was Producer/Director/Writer for the Emmy Award-nominated documentary, First Person Plural (Sundance, 2000), and Executive Producer for Spencer Nakasako’s Kelly Loves Tony (PBS, 1998) and AKA Don Bonus (PBS, 1996, Emmy Award). Most recently, Deann is the Director, Producer and Writer of In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (POV, 2010.) Formerly the director of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM,) Deann is now Executive Director of Katahdin Productions, a non-profit documentary production company based in Berkeley and Los Angeles. With Katahdin, Deann executive produced The Garden, (Oscar-nominated, 2009) and A Jihad for Love (Channel 4 (UK), ZDF/ARTE (France/Germany), SBS (Australia) and LOGO.)


Broadway: The Miracle Worker, Come Fly Away, Memphis (Tony Award), All About Me, A Little Night Music, Burn the Floor, The Norman Conquests (Tony Award). Upcoming: Ballroom, Garfield. Off Broadway: 39 Steps, Inventing Avi. National: Burn the Floor, The 39 Steps, Little House on the Prairie. UK: London: Hair, All My Sons, Sweet Charity. Tour: Hairspray.


Eric Falkenstein is a former film production executive and a current Broadway theater producer. On Coal River is his first effort as an Executive Producer. 2009-2010 Broadway productions: Come Fly Away; A Little Night Music; The Miracle Worker; Ragtime. On London’s West End: All My Sons. Among the Broadway plays which garnered Eric three Tony© Awards: The Norman Conquests; Desire Under the Elms; All My Sons, Impressionism; The Seagull; Thurgood; The Country Girl; The Seafarer, Coram Boy; Butley; The History Boys; Bridge & Tunnel; Democracy; Whoopi; Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune; The Crucible. Off-Broadway Plays: Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell; Bridge & Tunnel. Eric began his theatrical career at Yale Law School, where he wrote, directed and produced the annual end-of-semester Law Revue shows along with other future non-lawyer classmates. His company, Spark Productions, is at work on projects in theater, film, the environment, human and civil rights.


J. ROBERT SPENCER is a Tony Award Nominated Actor, Independent Film Director, Producer, and Writer living in New York City. In theatre, J. Robert has appeared in SIDE SHOW, FINIAN’S RAINBOW, HEARTLAND, TOMMY, CATS, and LUCKY DUCK. In 2004, he was cast and originated the role of Nick Massi in the Tony and Grammy Award Winning Musical JERSEY BOYS. In 2008 J. Robert was cast and originated the role of Dan Goodman in the Critically Acclaimed Broadway Production of NEXT TO NORMAL. He was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor and nominated for a 2008 – 2009 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. In 2005 J. Robert began his Independent Film Company 7 SPENCER PRODUCTIONS. He Produced/Wrote/Starred/Directed his first Independent Feature Comedy titled FARM GIRL IN NEW YORK (Sacramento International Film Festival, Big Apple Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Buffalo Niagra Film Festival, and the Seattle True Independent Film Festival.) He is in currently in post production as Executive Producer/Producer for his second Independent Feature titled HETEROSEXUAL’S. This film features J. Robert Spencer, Ashley Williams, Tovah Feldshuh, and Natasha Lyonne. J. Robert is the 2009 recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Sheandoah University.

Selected Advisors


Two-time Academy Award Winner for best feature documentary. Harlan County USA, winner of the 1977 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. In 1991, “Harlan County, USA” was named to the National Film Registry by Congress and designated an American Film Classic.


Nominated for an Academy Award®, an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy for My Country, My Country (POV 2006). She received a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy and an Independent Spirit Award for Flag Wars (POV 2003), made with Linda Goode Bryant. Poitras is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Media Arts Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation/Tribeca Film Institute. She has attended the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Edit and Story Lab as both a fellow and creative advisor. She is currently working on the third part of a trilogy about America post 9/11. Before making documentaries, Poitras worked as a professional chef. She lives in New York City.


Professor & Director of Motion Picture & Television Production at Western Carolina University. Director of “The Hidden,” “Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” “Renegades” and HBO’s “By Dawn’s Early Light,” Sholder was an editor on 1970’s “King – From Montgomery to Memphis,” nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary.


Variety Magazine

Feel-good nature of the pic’s story arc and the helmers’ respectful, thorough and relevant telling ensure fest life and strong tube sales for this solid, benevolent item.


The film is smart and patient, respectful of the residents.

Washington City Paper

You’ll cheer at the tenacity of the fighters, particularly Ed Wiley.

Huffington Post

On Coal River just might be the most inspiring and triumphant story of a possible clean energy future.

Take Action

Three actions you can take today

Tell the President to end mountain top removal
Ask your Representatives to support the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act
(A.C.H.E. Act)
Donate to Coal River Mountain Watch

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On Coal River