Film Review: From the Ashes

Powerful documentary shows what's wrong with the coal industry and how to fix it.
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Too many documentaries about social issues leave viewers feeling helpless, overwhelmed by what look like insoluble problems. From the Ashes does more than explain the coal industry and its associated problems. This National Geographic Documentary Films release shows how consumers, localities and governing bodies are finding ways to work around coal and the damage it causes.

Backed by RadicalMedia and Bloomberg Philanthropies, From the Ashes is distinguished first of all by clear, focused reporting. You are not likely to see coal and the coal industry explained as openly and succinctly as they are here. Working from a tight script, director Michael Bonfiglio can range from a global scope to personal case studies without losing sight of the message that coal is an obsolete, expensive, dangerous and poisonous source of energy.

From the Ashes explains the growth of coal during the Industrial Revolution, shows how it is the biggest source of atmospheric pollution, and notes how much it contributes to declining water quality. Using quick, sure strokes, the filmmakers cover coal's environmental damage, its associated health issues and its impact on local economies.

The documentary debunks claims for "clean coal," shows how miners are being victimized by an industry that has stolen their pensions and health plans, and provides angry, heartfelt testimonials by parents whose drinking water has been tainted and whose children have been struck with respiratory illnesses.

With the Trump administration issuing empty promises about rescuing the coal industry, From the Ashes couldn't be more timely. The filmmakers address regulations and court rulings as recent as this past March, such as the rollback of the Clean Stream Act.

Facts drive the documentary. And the conclusions From the Ashes reaches are impossible to deny. Coal is too expensive, too destructive to remain a dominant energy source. Almost half of the coal-fired energy plants have shut down in the last five years. With advances in technology, wind, hydroelectric and solar power are increasingly viable. And locals are learning how to stand up to the industry by preventing pipelines, extraction facilities and rail transport.

What's more, cities are changing to renewable energy on their own. Other countries have already made that commitment. The switch to cleaner energy is inevitable, despite efforts by the fossil fuel industry to hold onto the past. From the Ashes makes an airtight case that the time to stop coal is now.

Click here for cast and crew information.