The ancient mountain forests of Appalachia are being felled. What remains is an eerie, barren, and lunar landscape of rough-hewn rock. Alan Gignoux witnesses the devastating effects of mountaintop removal in America’s coal heartland. Appalachia: Mountaintops to Moonscapes features photography and interviews with activists and local residents.  It has been developed into an award-winning short documentary and a photobook.

Appalachia in Virginia is known for two very different reasons. First: as America’s “resource colony”. At its height – one hundred years ago – this region supplied two thirds of the nation’s coal reserves. And second: as one of the poorest, least educated, and least healthy regions of North America.

Coal mining has been part of the socio-economic fabric of Appalachia for more than a century. But a move away from traditional shaft mining techniques has been devastating local communities. The difference-maker is mountaintop removal – the now-favoured technique of quite literally blowing the top off a mountain to reveal the internal resources.

Explosives are used to blast between 400 and 600 feet off the mountaintop.

 Mountaintop removal has taken away employment from local towns. It has also destroyed the landscape, depleting natural habitats, and causing a variety of pollution-related health problems among the local population.  The region is also afflicted by a high level of opioid addiction.

“This area is a pandemic of prescription drug addiction,”

Jane Branham.

Started in 2012 and still ongoing,Appalachia: Mountaintops to Moonscapes is a long form documentary project that shows the scale of deforestation and the drastic changes in the landscape across Appalachia. It also documents the human side of the story – speaking with numerous local people about the impact of a changing industry upon communities in Virginia.

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