An intimate journey inside the lives and dangerous work of coal miners
Year Released
Film Length(s)
72 mins
Remote video URL


A journey inside the lives of coal miners and an intimate story of the love between father and son.

Featured review

This intimate program examines the lives of the miners. Cameras follow the men as they travel deep underground, crawl through tunnels, and chip away at coal. A compelling documentary.
Candace Smith


In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, a young coal miner named Lucas Chaffin toils one mile underground. Despite the harsh working conditions, Lucas takes fierce pride in the fact that he's carrying on a family tradition. As a fourth-generation miner, working inside the earth is more than just a job to Lucas. He believes it's his duty; a responsibility symbolized by the old coal hammer that he uses. It is the same hammer that was used for 26 years by the man he loves more than anything: his father, Luther Chaffin.

Luther - nicknamed "Bonecrusher" - was once a strong, handsome man. But now, at 61, he's withered and sick; coal dust has ravaged his lungs. As life slips away, his greatest concern isn't for himself; it's for Lucas's safety.

Bonecrusher is an intimate account of the love between a father and son and the powerful bond they share, a bond that is put to the test. It is also a stark journey to the coal fields of Dante, Virginia where a tight-knit community of miners face life with a toughness and camaraderie as enduring as the earth itself.


Bonecrusher is the best contemporary portrait of an underground miner that I have seen ever.
Steve Fesenmaier
Charleston Gazette
These are proud, likable, and candid men who don't hide their emotions as they give viewers an unflinching look at the realities of life in and around the mines of their impoverished but close-knit rural town. Nothing is sugarcoated or romanticized in this raw and gritty film, which follows Luther's battle with black lung disease and cancer and Lucas's struggle to come to terms with his father's mortality and the physical and mental hardships of his chosen profession. There are no happy endings here. This must-see film is one of the better recent documentaries on the American South; highly recommended for all audiences.
Douglas King
University of South Carolina Library, Library Journal
Bonecrusher shines a light on our hidden workforce. College students who study law, environment, health professions, government and policy would be well-served to gain insight into the community profiled in Bonecrusher. A terrific film.
Bette Jacobs
Dean, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University
Bonecrusher compellingly details the dangers of coal mining, the sequences in the dark underground channels where men walk hunched over while breathing coal dust are truly harrowing.
P. Hall
Video Librarian
I loved this film. I see it enhancing several classes from the most basic courses to specialized studies in rural sociology and community services helping educate students who have no knowledge of this part of America's heartland.
Deborah A. Abowitz
Professor of Sociology, Bucknell University
This remarkable film powerfully demonstrates the potential for documentary film to transcend the specifics of class and reach all audiences at the most basic human level.
Steve Wurtzler
Associate Professor, Film & Media Studies, Georgetown University
In these days of telecommuting and job uncertainty, there's something profoundly inspiring about the Chaffins, and Fountain has perceptively captured this rural sense of family and tradition. Bonecrusher is the intimate, reverent, and absorbing story of the relationship between Lucas and his coalminer father.
Eddie Cockrell
The story is compelling...and just as compelling are the claustrophobic scenes of Lucas and his fellow miners working in the dark, miles and miles below the earth.
Erin Sullivan
Baltimore City Paper
...dust-covered love story unearthed in Appalachia...watching father and son negotiate mortality and money, Fountain's documentary tugs at the heart as much as the conscience: In Bonecrusher, there really is no such thing as clean coal.
Hilary Crowe
Washington City Paper
Bonecrusher, a documentary by Washington filmmaker Michael F. Fountain, is saturated with contrasts, the darkness of the mines, the lush colors of the Virginia hills in autumn... The images here are eternal: horseshoes, Little League, the endless coal trains winding around the mountains, the lives cut short by work that nonetheless feels true and good.
Marc Fisher
Washington Post
Through wonderful cinematography…this documentary takes the viewer to places both beautiful and terrifying.
Skizz Cyzyk
Maryland Film Festival

Awards and Screenings

Best Documentary Critics Award, Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, 2010
American Library Association Notable Video For Adults, 2012
Jack Spadaro Best Documentary Award, 2010
Best Documentary Runner-Up, Appalachian Film Festival, 2009
Best Documentary Runner-Up, Asheville Film Festival, 2009
One World Film Festival, 2011
San Francisco Independent Film Festival, 2010
Bradford International Film Festival, England, 2010
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, 2009
BendFilm Festival, 2009
Voted in the top five for audience favorite, FilmFest DC, 2009
Maryland Film Festival, 2009
Pare Lorentz International Film Festival, 2009
Rehoboth International Film Festival, 2009
Southern Appalachian International Film Festival, 2009
University of Montana Peace & Justice Film Series, 2009

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