They go deep underground. They do it knowing they’re risking their lives every day. And the men who go down in Mine 9 still do it — still have to do it. Until you watch this tense film that won Cinequest, you might not understand why they do it. Writer/director Eddie Mensore has created not just a gripping narrative (loosely based on a real-life mining disaster), but expertly shown a light on the humanity of his characters.
Mensore leads off with a child’s birthday party, a celebration in a small tight-knit community that allows the director to establish the ambivalence some feel about being in a mining town. Of course there’s ambivalence; no one is blind to the risk, and many have lost family members. Pride might play into why some continue to work underground, but it’s also tradition — generations have been miners, and that’s something to hold onto. There’s also that key phrase — “putting food on the table for the family.” It’s just the most basic family values holding things together, for good or ill.
And there will be ill, as crew chief Zeke (Terry Serpico) knows full well that conditions are particularly unsafe right now. He wants to report it, but as a good leader, he gathers his crew to hold a vote on it. There are pros and cons, especially as this will snowball into revealing other perhaps unsafe practices going on. They may hate it, but no one wants to shut down the mine for an investigation.
Mine 9 plays out as it says it will — there’s an explosion, miners are trapped, and people are tested. There’s prayer and sacrifice, and all of it shot claustrophobically by Matthew Boyd with a muted pallet. Even in darkness, it’s hard not to be drawn in and care about these people, and the lives you hope they can someday resume.
There’s a lot of controversy about the US coal industry, and for good reason. But I have to appreciate a movie that can artfully offer an explanation as to why it matters so much to the people who work in it. They’re not blind to the corruption in the industry, or the indifference of those at the very top. Mine 9 reminds us that those who work the mines aren’t statistics; they’re people, and for them, this is often a matter of life and death — but it’s a living.
After playing Cinequest, Mine 9 will open April 12th in select theaters in the Appalachian region, with an expanded release April 19th.