This documentary, co-directed by Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin and broadcast on PBS’ “Independent Lens,” offers an overview of how two lifelong friends a small town in eastern Kentucky reacted when a well-financed coal company sought to purchase local land and use the process of strip-mining a mountaintop to extract the buried energy source.
For medical technician Beverly May, the coal company represents a blatant threat to the local ecosystem – she argues that the environmental costs created through mountain removal far outweigh the financial benefits that the town may enjoy through the land sale. For furniture maker Terry Ratliff, the monetary gain earned from the leasing of his land to the coal company is something of an answered prayer – after long periods of financial struggle, the coal company’s checks could provide him with the fiscal security that long eluded him.
While “Deep Down” is not lacking is dramatic undertones – the unfolding environmental story is mirrored by the extremely difficult lives of the town’s working class population – the film is framed in a strangely leisurely manner. There are a number of sequences that play up “local color” – a community square dance, May’s family Thanksgiving dinner – that have nothing to do with the core subject, and the excess of scenic shots often makes the film feel like a travelogue. Clearly, a shorter running time and more conservative editing could have polished this coal mining film into a non-fiction diamond.