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'Coal Road to China' documentary returns to Missoula screen

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After nearly 5,000 miles driving and some 1,200 hours production time, Jan and Harold Hoem have made a 33-minute film that supporters of the project say gets to the heart of questions surrounding development of an Otter Creek coal mine and the Tongue River railroad in Montana.

A homegrown documentary about coal returns to Missoula on Tuesday before a "final push" of shows in Washington and Idaho.

"Every day that passes is another day that people are learning about the impacts of pollution from burning coal," said Jan Hoem, who helped make the film.

"Coal Road to China" shows at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crystal Theater, and a discussion will follow. The 33-minute movie was made by Hoem and other members of MELT, or Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow.

"This is a much-revised version of the film," Hoem said.

With help from Rick Kuschel, the filmmakers ironed out some sound glitches in the documentary, she said. Kuschel has a recording center here and is "a genius with sound."

"All the sound problems have been solved by this good man," Hoem said.

The film opened in Missoula a little more than a year ago. After the screening here, the movie will show in Seattle on May 4; Bellingham, Washington, on May 7; and Sandpoint, Idaho, on May 11, all possible choke points in the rail transport of coal from mines in Montana and Wyoming to West Coast export terminals.


To make the film, Jan and her husband put nearly 5,000 miles on the road in three trips to southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming to tell the story about coal exports to Asia.

Proposals to expand ports on the West Coast are pending, yet the demand for coal has diminished in the U.S. and China plans to stop importing coal in three to five years, Hoem said.

"I think some of these decisions are going to be coming out for Cherry Point and Longview," she said of export facilities in Washington. "So this is our big, final push."


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