Filmmaker digs deep at the coal underbelly

A visiting American filmmaker says the problems in the Hunter Valley are being repeated in coal communities all over the world.

Michael O'Connell - whose most recent documentary, Mountain Top Removal, profiled coalmining methods in West Virginia - is in Australia to make a follow-up film.

Mr O'Connell has immersed himself in the byzantine world of global coal and geopolitics, and is travelling the eastern states with a camera in his hand to see what happens.

"A few weeks ago I drove 1000 kilometres from Brisbane to a community meeting called over Waratah Coal in the Galilee Basin," Mr O'Connell said.

"When I got there the coal company said they wouldn't let me film and they would shut the meeting down if I tried. I'm not a Mike Moore so I didn't make a song and dance about it, but you have to wonder sometimes about what's so threatening about letting an outsider look around."

And Mr O'Connell views the Hunter with an outsider's gaze, noticing the things the locals might take for granted.

"It's an interesting juxtaposition here, the big new coal-loader on one side of the road and this single wind turbine on the other," Mr O'Connell said on Kooragang Island yesterday.

Mountain Top Removal saw Mr O'Connell share the stage with former US vice-president Al Gore at the 2008 Nashville film festival.

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