By Merle Bertrand | March 27, 2000

Imagine walking out into your back yard one morning to find bulldozers and other heavy equipment busily gouging out huge chunks of your lawn… and legally there wasn’t anything you could do about it. It was playing dirty pool even by our government’s standards; an obscure clause buried inside the title deeds of many (occasionally illiterate) Eastern Kentucky landowners called a “Broad Form Deed” which in essence stipulated that although the hard scrabble farmers owned the surface of the land, the government owned everything underneath. Enter the strip miners with their polluting, land-despoiling machines, setting up one of the earliest, most unlikely, and largely unheralded environmental struggles in our history. Armed with local ordinances, support from then Kentucky Governor Breathett and, when necessary, their own shotguns and dynamite, the fiercely independent burgeoning activists occupied the miner’s camps at great personal risk in their bare-knuckled efforts to drive the hardened strip-miners from their land. Veteran filmmaker Anne Lewis deftly lets the participants speak for themselves in this grim but colorful nugget of a tale, supplementing their stories with archival footage and chilling government film propaganda. She sets this all to an Appalachian and folk music soundtrack which effectively grounds the film in its distinct locale. It’s not too surprising that “To Save the Land and People” (rightfully) portrays the aggrieved landowners as sympathetic victims and depicts the money-grubbing miners and their rationalizing apologist lackeys as jackasses. What IS surprising, however, is how well the plain-spoken, oft-ridiculed Appalachian folk come across. One drawback is that the film jumps right into the heart of the conflict without providing much in the way of history. This creates a bit of a struggle as we must then figure out the participants on the fly. Similarly, the film’s ending just sort of inconclusively drifts away. In between, however, is the sort of compelling story of grit and determination that would make the Boston Tea Partiers proud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon