By Kirsten Larvick
In 1972 over a dozen coal towns along Buffalo Creek, a hollow in Logan County, West Virginia, were overcome with 132 million gallons of black waste water. The devastating flood produced a 30-foot swell, ravaging homes and landscapes, killing over 100 residents, injuring over 1,000 others and leaving more than 4,000 of its 5,000-population homeless.
Mimi Pickering’s documentary, Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (1975), explores the events leading up to the devastation as well as the aftermath, examining the relationship of the corporate coal industry and the government to the community that was both dependent upon and abused by these two entities.
The disaster was the result of breaks in three dams, which were owned, operated and maintained by Buffalo Creek-Pittston Coal Company, which initially claimed the catastrophe was “an act of God”, the flood a result of heavy rains. Further investigation revealed the dams’ poor construction and maintenance, and a lack of concern, despite significant warning signs of the dams’ fragility, by Pittston management as well as government inspectors. The burst occurred just days after a federal mine inspector declared the dam “satisfactory.”
The government appointed a commission for inquiry, made up of officials who may have been sympathetic to the coal industry, rather than a task force of nonpartisan appointments. After the United Mine Workers’ concerns fell on the deaf ears of the commission, the labor union formed its own body to conduct an independent investigation.
Most heart-breaking are the testimonials of the flood survivors captured in Pickering’s film, and the psychological effects on the individuals who were left trying to put their lives back together both financially and emotionally with very little meaningful assistance from Pittston Coal Company or the government. Pickering spent time in the community, asking survivors through a non-exploitive approach, to tell their first-person stories. She also confronted coal company front-men to explain their actions and blatantly unsympathetic responses.
Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man is a testament to organizing and community strength and the power of grassroots storytelling.
On December 3rd the NYWIFT Women’s Film Preservation Fund and UnionDocs will host a screening of Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man, followed with a panel discussion with its filmmaker, Mimi Pickering (via Skype) and fellow artist/activist Sylvia Ryerson, moderated by labor rights activist, Michelle Miller (both in-person). Tickets and UnionDocs venue details can be found here: https://uniondocs.org/event/2017-12-03-resist-reform-repeat-buffalo-creek-flood-an-act-of-man/
The film is presented as part of WFPF and UnionDocs’ 10-part series, From the Vault: Women’s Advocacy on Film, in celebration of NYWIFT’s 40th anniversary. Read more about the series.
Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man is distributed by Appalshop (https://www.appalshop.org) a nonprofit for cultural organizing and place-based media, arts and education to document the life, celebrate the culture and voice the concerns of people living in Appalachia and rural America.
Welcome to the NYWIFT community, Grace-Mary Burega! Grace-Mary is a composer for film, TV, and video games as well as a woodwind multi-instrumentalist on saxophone, clarinet, and flute. Her compositions have been on TV PSAs and in short and feature films, and she has scored over 30 films to date. Grace Notes is her media composing company, specializing in custom music for a variety of projects such as documentary, horror, comedy, animation, and more. Grace-Mary is a recent Masters in Film Scoring graduate of Berklee Online. She is the Secretary of Women in Film and Video of New England and Secretary of the Female Composer Safety League. Grace-Mary spoke to us about her favorite projects, latest game obsessions, and how Women in Film organizations have shaped her career.READ MORE
When NYWIFT Board Member Kathryn O’Kane headed off to direct season two of The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney+ it was, in her words, “the worst of times” – the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, before vaccines were available and film production felt particularly dangerous and fraught. But the difficult work paid off, and has led to the best of times! Season two of the docuseries, which follows the beloved quirky actor as he pulls on the thread of a familiar topic to unravel a world of fascinating secrets, has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special.
We checked in with Kathryn to offer our congratulations, learn more about the filming process, and discuss what’s next for her.
The La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival is a community event bringing together collaborative global creative industry leaders to La Jolla, one of the most beautiful places in California. This location is surrounded by pristine coastline, seaside resorts, wildlife, and birds, adding to the ultimate experience. La Jolla welcomed guests to the 13th annual event this July with open arms, and the awards event sold out once again and received rave reviews by all! Jean Criss shares are the details.READ MORE
Let’s welcome Sheherzad Raza Preisler to NYWIFT! She is a native New Yorker who attended undergrad at Columbia University, where she majored in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies and followed the pre-medical track. After an identity crisis, Sheherzad fell in love with all things filmmaking and is now an MFA candidate at Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. Much of Sheherzad’s work deals with growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America. She spoke to us about her unusual path from pre-med to science writing to filmmaking, how storytelling is innate to her culture, and her post-graduation plans.READ MORE