Local Documentary on Libby Saga Airs Thursday
August 26, 2007
Libby, Montana is first of all the story of an ideal American community in what early explorers called “the land of the shining mountains.” Nestled below the rugged peaks of the Northern Rockies, along the Kootenai River, Libby is the archetypal backpackers’, hunters’, and anglers paradise as well as a picture-perfect example of the American wilderness that many people want to preserve. The town’s remoteness and logging and mining economy nurtured conservative, self-reliant family and community values.
But, Libby, Montana is also the story of an ideal betrayed in a way that crosses political lines and raises alarming questions about the role of corporate power in American politics, and the environmental pollution that extracts its highest costs from ordinary citizens. In Libby, 70 years of strip-mining an ore called “vermiculite” - marketed at “Zonolite” - has exposed workers, their families and thousands of residents to a toxic form of asbestos, creating what the Environmental Protection Agency has called the worst case of industrial poisoning of a whole community in American history.
Criminal indictments going to trial this fall charge that the mining continued for more than 30 years after WR Grace knew of the dangers.
But don’t weep only for Libby; an estimated 35 million homes in the U.S. contain Zonolite insulation.
The documentary film by Drury Gunn Carr and Doug Hawes-Davis airs Thursday, August 28, on PBS as part of the 20th anniversary season of public television’s groundbreaking POV Series.
In 1992, Carr and Hawes-Davis co-founded High Plains Films, dedicated to exploring complex and controversial environmental issues. The “do-it-all-yourself” filmmakers have since collaborated on more than a dozen documentaries, earning more than 35 awards nationally.
Carr and Hawes-Davis both graduated with masters’ degrees from the University of Montana. Their fifth documentary feature, Brave New West, will be completed in the fall of 2007.
The directors of Libby, Montana use archival footage, news reports and the words of a range of participants in Libby’s tragedy - from ex-miners and mine managers and their families to EPA field workers to Montana’s former governor, Judy Martz, and then EPA chief Christy Todd Whitman.
“Even as we documented the history of the town and the clean-up efforts, the story of Libby took on a larger life as Congress was forced to consider what to do about the millions of homes and other buildings in the U.S. filled with vermiculite from Libby,” co-director Carr said.
Adds co-Director, Hawes-Davis, “Libby is a hard-working, blue-collar community that personifies the American Dream, but the story we had to tell was about the dream gone horribly wrong. Industrialists, politicians, workers and ordinary citizens all play a role in this American tragedy.”