CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A film whose chilling theme is known all too well by residents of coal producing states — an entrapment inside an Appalachian mine — opens in theaters this week.
"Mine 9" debuts Friday in West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. It's expected to roll out nationwide starting next week, news outlets reported.
New Martinsville, West Virginia, native Eddie Mensore wrote, produced and directed the film, which takes place deep inside a coal mine where nine miners with a limited oxygen supply are trapped after a methane explosion.
"Nobody has ever made this movie," Mensore said. "That was really the inspiration," along with real-life tragedies while growing up that "shook our state."
West Virginia has seen its share.
In 2010, 29 men died in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.
In 2006, a methane gas explosion at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia killed 12 miners. Another miner survived. Later that year, five miners were killed in an explosion at a mine in Harlan County, Kentucky.
The worst mining disaster in U.S. history occurred in December 1907 when 362 died in an explosion at a coal mine in Monongah, West Virginia.
Mensore said the film isn't based on a particular event, but "we had to make it as realistic as possible."
The characters are based on miners Mensore knew. The story highlights a dangerous and often underappreciated profession, but after a friend in the coal industry scoffed at Mensore's initial script, "it was back to square one," he said.
Mensore said it took him years to find a coal operator willing to allow camera crews to film the real workings in a mine. The movie blends footage shot at a mine in Buchanan County, Virginia, with scenes recreated on a set built in Atlanta.
"It was the only way to do it," Mensore said. "It was hard enough crawling on a set that was 4 foot high. I couldn't imagine doing that in a coal mine.
"I have so much more respect for miners now, the knowledge and intelligence they have to have to do the job."
The film made its world premiere last month at the Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival in San Jose, California. The actors include Princeton native Kevin Sizemore, who plays the character of Daniel.
Sizemore said he was "more than blown away" when he first learned about the film.
Mensore "put a lot of effort into this, and he knew what he wanted to do, to accomplish, and he was going to do it the right way," Sizemore said. "I really appreciate his vision, that was the main thing. The vision made a big difference for me."