In the fall of 2015, Kentucky filmmaker Ben Evans bought his first electric car, a used Nissan LEAF. This week his new documentary film, EVOLVE: Driving a Clean Future in Coal Country, premieres at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington. It is a “one night only” showing. The film is about electric cars, their evolving place in Kentucky transportation, and the reach of the new energy economy into Eastern Kentucky, long the dominion of Big Coal.
“After I got my LEAF,” said Evans, “it was in the spring of 2016 when I was contacted by Stuart Ungar to see if I’d make a short promotional film about Evolve KY.” Evolve KY is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization of electric vehicle owners and enthusiasts that Ungar co-founded in Louisville to promote electrified personal transportation. Evans was known for his award-winning films, YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip and NERVE.
“This kind of followed a similar creative trajectory to my previous film NERVE,” said Evans. He was contacted in 2014 by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation to make a film short about KEF and its work with the issues of chemical weapons disposal at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond. The project expanded into a full-fledged documentary, over an hour in length. EVOLVE also became a full-length documentary, about an hour in length.
“What happens,” said Evans, “is that, as I learn more, the initial subject becomes increasingly interconnected with others, and I end up feeling like I can’t do it justice within a short promotional format. I like things that have a story arc and emotional connection.” As with NERVE, Evans, with concerned parties, undertook an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for the EVOLVE film.
Evans says the film starts with a focus on electric cars in Kentucky and the work of Evolve KY, then reaches into Eastern Kentucky energy. “It was important to me to get out to Eastern Kentucky and explore what’s going on out there with the energy transition because this relates directly to how we’re powering our electrified transportation future,” he said. “It’s a part of the country where they’ve been locked into a boom and bust coal economy for a long time, and as the world moves away from coal, they’re trying to figure out what comes next and how they can be a part of it. I was surprised to see how eager a lot of these communities are to find sustainable foundations for their economic future. They understand much more than what they are often given credit for by the national media, and, at the end of the day, they just want durable jobs that will let them stay in their communities with their families. All the better if they can build something that will preserve their mountain heritage.”
The film shines light on the solar farm created in Winchester by the Eastern KY Power Cooperative. The University of Kentucky Solar Car Team is also featured.
A visit to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham finds an array of rooftop solar panels that have been built onto the museum, marking a potent symbol of change.
Then the film takes an in-depth view of EnerBlu.
EnerBlu proposes to become a very big deal for Kentucky. Its executive headquarters are in Lexington, while its manufacturing facilities will be atop the former Marion Branch coal mine, 154 flattened acres in the mountains of Pikeville that will be home for the production of advanced energy storage batteries based on eLTO technology.
The company will bring approximately 1,000 jobs to the region, and its technology will advance the renewable energy sector. It will be the first manufacturing company in the U.S. to work with this specific kind of battery technology, though that technology was first developed here.
The film also features Adam Edelen, founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures, who is spearheading plans for a 50-100 megawatt solar installation in Pike County. It would be the largest solar installation in this part of the country, and would also occupy another vast former mountaintop removal mining site. “Bringing Republicans and Democrats together is far easier than bringing together solar developers and coal executives,” Edelen said to Kentucky Today. “But we’ve got it and we’re doing this big important thing; and if it works, it will be transformative.” The project would retrain 400 out-of-work coal miners for jobs at the installation.
“There’s a certain poetic justice in the possibility that some of these mountains that were sacrificed to extract coal might now be able to help save other mountains by showing new paths to sustainable energy production, job creation, and prosperity,” said Evans.
The film’s soundtrack includes Kentucky musicians. Evans says he has a good working relationship with Gill Holland, who founded the Kentucky record label, SonaBLAST!, giving the filmmaker access to much of that catalog. Kentucky artists on the soundtrack include the “new folk” band Beady, Ben Sollee, Bastion, and The Pass. Evans also included music by Owen Evans, his younger brother out in Arizona.
The premiere of EVOLVE is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 6, at the Kentucky Theater and is being presented by EnerBlu, UK Student Government, and Evolve KY. Tickets can be purchased at KentuckyTheater.com or at the door, and UK students with student IDs will have free admission. Two or three electric vehicles will be parked in front of the theater that evening for a pre-screening EV showcase. A post-screening panel discussion with stars of the film will include Michael Weber, Executive Chairman of EnerBlu; Adam Edelen, Founder of Edelen Strategic Ventures; Wrensey Gill, VP of Evolve KY and Director of the Lexington Chapter; members of the UK Solar Car Team; and the filmmaker.
For tickets and information, click here.