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“Mine 21” Wins National Award

Posted on Friday, October 25, 2019 at 12:50 pm

“Mine 21,” the short film about the 1981 deadly coal-mine explosion in Whitwell, has been named the winner of the 2019 Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media by the Austen Riggs Center, one of the nation’s leading institutions for psychiatric treatment and study, located in Stockbridge, MA.
In announcing the award, Austen Riggs Center Medical Director Eric Plakun said, “‘Mine 21’ artfully illustrates how a catastrophe can impact an entire community.”
The short film, directed by Stephen Garrett and produced by Chris McDonough, follows two students from the University of the South—Kelsey Arbuckle and Alexa Fults—as they learn more about the story of the disaster and its aftermath. All four plan to attend the award ceremony in November.
Arbuckle and Fults, both politics majors from Grundy County, worked to uncover information about a coal mine disaster that was personal for both of them, even though it occurred long before they were born. During her sophomore year at Sewanee, Arbuckle read a newspaper story about the mine explosion and realized that her grandfather had been one of the victims. She contacted McDonough, who had written a blogpost about the event, and the idea for the documentary was born.
“We are thrilled, of course, to have won this award for ‘Mine 21’ from the Austen Riggs Center. But most importantly, though, we feel privileged to share what we have learned about the explosion in Whitwell and its consequences, all of which had such a profound impact on our neighboring communities,” said McDonough.
“It is a local story but the recognition by the Austen Riggs Center shows how significant it is for people across the nation whose own communities may have suffered from traumatic events. We are grateful for the opportunity to share this story of courage and hope in Marion and Grundy Counties.”
A fifteen-minute version of “Mine 21” was screened last fall in Grundy and Marion counties as well as in Sewanee, and over 1,200 people attended. The producers are finishing up a half-hour version which they hope to screen locally soon. Plans to bring the documentary to film festivals and to broadcast it on television are in the works.
The documentary film recognizes, shares, and preserves some of the stories of Mine 21—a local event with national resonance and policy implications. Watch the trailer and learn more about the film at
The other 2019 Austen Riggs Erikson Prize winner is Heavy, a memoir by Mississippi author, Kiese Laymon.