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Filmmaker releasing interview in response to Blankenship film

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

A West Virginia filmmaker plans to release an interview with the family member of a victim of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster to explain “what really happened.”

The release comes in response to an announcement that former Massey Energy head Don Blankenship is funding a documentary about the disaster that’s slated to come out next week — the four year anniversary of the tragedy — said filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans.

“The relative and I agree that since there should be a way to honor those miners, this is something we think is very important, to have a family member discuss what happened and her hopes that it will never happen again,” Evans said.

Her words mirror statements Blankenship posted on Twitter and sent to the Daily Mail Wednesday.

On April 5, 2010, 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County following an explosion. Many believe Blankenship and other former Massey officials are in-part responsible for the disaster.

Earlier in the week, Blankenship told the Daily Mail he’s funding a documentary “to explain what happened at UBB and to hopefully help avoid it happening again.”

Several investigations into the disaster concluded poor ventilation, dangerous amounts of coal dust and Massey placing profits before people created an unsafe environment that contributed to the explosion.

Blankenship, who resigned from his position with Massey in December 2010 following intense scrutiny, disputes those findings. Although Blankenship has never been charged with a crime in connection to the disaster, several other former executives have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from it.

Alpha Natural Resources, which purchased Massey, is in the process of finalizing a $265 million settlement with former Massey investors who claim they were misled about Massey’s safety record before the explosion.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told the Daily Mail Wednesday his office’s investigation into Massey and the disaster is ongoing.

Blankenship maintains he did nothing illegal and said his company led the way in coal mine safety.

Most of the details about Blankenship’s film are still unknown. Thursday he told the Daily Mail he’ll be conducting interviews and a “satellite media tour” — a series of television interviews — about the film next week. Later in the week the film will be posted on his website and will be available for other media that want it, he said.

“Although that could change as NBC or someone might take it and then we wouldn’t post it until later,” he added, noting the arrangements are subject to change.

Evans said the victim’s family member — Evans preferred not to identify the person yet — approached her after learning of Blankenship’s film. Evans had already interviewed the person for her film “Blood on the Mountain,” her take on the impact of the coal and other industries on West Virginia.

“This is important for these families, for their voices to be heard, not just his,” Evans said.

Evans previewed the film in Charleston in the fall, but the complete project won’t be released until September, she said.

A Braxton County native and environmental activist, Evans won the 2009 best film award from the West Virginia Filmmakers Festival for her documentary “coal country,” a film critical of mountaintop removal mining. She also produced the three-part PBS documentary series “The Appalachians.”

Evans said she plans to post the interview next week on her websites. She also plans to ask other organizations to post it on their websites and will send it to anyone interested.

“The family members want me to release this on April 5. They want their voices heard, their truth told,” Evans said.

“And if they don’t have a right to that, who does?”

She said she expects the clip to run about 20 minutes.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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