In this feature documentary, filmmaker Paul Cowan offers an innovative, moving account of the Westray coal mine disaster that killed 26 men in Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992. The film focuses on the lives of three widows and three miners lucky enough not to be underground that day when the methane and coal dust ignited. But their lives were torn apart by the events.
Meet some of the working men, who felt they had no option but to stay on at Westray. And wives, who heard the rumours, saw their men sometimes bloodied from accidents and stood by them, hoping it would all turn out all right. This is a film about working people everywhere whose lives are often entrusted to companies that violate the most fundamental rules of safety and decency in the name of profit.
How do you tell the story of a national tragedy without focusing on the gory details or becoming sensationalistic? Easy – focus on the people. This has always been Paul Cowan’s biggest strength. He presents real people to us, warts and all, allowing us to empathize with them and appreciate what they have lived through. The tragedy of this coal mine disaster was presented to us on the news at the time in short, digestible bites. We learned almost nothing about the people who lived it, but in Westray we are told a compelling, fascinating story through their eyes. Cowan is not afraid of using re-enactments if this helps advance the story, but his films remain documentaries, and the real people get a chance to tell their side of things. What I love about Westray is just how honest these stories are. The suffering, the guilt and the anger are real. These are not perfect people, but guess what folks? Neither are we.Albert Ohayon
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