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‘Mine 9’ gritty and too close to home

By Staff | Apr 24, 2019

Ordinarily, coal miners refer their underground workplace as a “pit of hell.” They ask their Maker to watch over them before descending and that the “Lord allows to come out again.”

New Martinsville native Eddie Mensore wrote, produced and directed a tense film, in which nine miners working on their knees with an hour of oxygen struggle to survive after a methane explosion.

Growing up in New Martinsville, Mensore recalled a cluster of mine tragedies “that shook the state.” His “Mine 9” compiles real-life disasters (Upper Big Branch in 2010, Sago Mine in 2006, and Farmington Consol #9 mine explosion in 1968) into one “based on a true story” independent production that maintains an uneasy claustrophobic edge by honing the camera on the miners trapped below, not rescue efforts.

Before descent, a family birthday party leads to a teen’s decision not to go to college but continue the family tradition. He will ultimately be one of those trapped by the methane vapors, which the superintendent should have reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) but did not fearing inspectors would close the mine which accounted for “bread and butter” for the community’s workers.

Workers and industry ownership “cheating” on safety for greed infects coal mining, nuclear reactor plants, chemical and other manufacturing divisions. Many films (“Matewan,” “October Sky,” “Molly Mcguires,” “Harlan County USA,” and “Beneath”) concentrate on labor discourse, not a disaster.

Filmed (in part) at a mine in Virginia (the director said it took years to find a mine owner willing to grant permission for underground filming), there are hints of West Virginia (Thurmond’s depot, Coalwood’s “October Sky” signage).

Hollywood’s magic mixed footage shot in one day at the mine and turned out a sound stage recreation in Atlanta. The intensity of the countdown to no air combines with a series of frantic conditions in the passageways. Though, the climax segues too rapidly, the empathy for the will to live of the trapped miners and their own efforts to “rig” devices to prolong their lives remains intact.

Tony Rutherford is a film reviewer for HuntingtonNews.net and a member of the Huntington Regional Film Commission.