| 1 h 19 min

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In this feature documentary, filmmaker Paul Cowan offers an innovative, moving account of the Westray coal mine disaster that killed 26 men in Nova Scotia on May 9, 1992. The film focuses on the lives of three widows and three miners lucky enough not to be underground that day when the methane and coal dust ignited. But their lives were torn apart by the events.

Meet some of the working men, who felt they had no option but to stay on at Westray. And wives, who heard the rumours, saw their men sometimes bloodied from accidents and stood by them, hoping it would all turn out all right. This is a film about working people everywhere whose lives are often entrusted to companies that violate the most fundamental rules of safety and decency in the name of profit.

How do you tell the story of a national tragedy without focusing on the gory details or becoming sensationalistic? Easy – focus on the people. This has always been Paul Cowan’s biggest strength. He presents real people to us, warts and all, allowing us to empathize with them and appreciate what they have lived through. The tragedy of this coal mine disaster was presented to us on the news at the time in short, digestible bites. We learned almost nothing about the people who lived it, but in Westray we are told a compelling, fascinating story through their eyes. Cowan is not afraid of using re-enactments if this helps advance the story, but his films remain documentaries, and the real people get a chance to tell their side of things. What I love about Westray is just how honest these stories are. The suffering, the guilt and the anger are real. These are not perfect people, but guess what folks? Neither are we.

Albert Ohayon
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Westray , Paul Cowan, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

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  • participant
    Harriet Munroe
    Vicki Drolet
    Wayne Cheverie
    Bernadette Feltmate
    Fraser Agnew
    Carl Guptill
  • director
    Paul Cowan
  • writer
    Paul Cowan
  • photographer
    Paul Cowan
  • producer
    Kent Martin
  • editor
    Hannele Halm
  • production manager
    Patricia Coughran
  • location manager
    Connie Littlefield
  • sound
    Jane Porter
  • additional sound
    Arthur McKay
    Wayne Cormier
  • camera assistant
    Kyle Cameron
  • narrator
    Michael Jones
    Katie Malloch
  • original music composer
    Robert M. Lepage
  • studio musician
    Stéphane Allard
    Claude Castonguay
    Robert M. Lepage
    René Lussier
    Éric Auclair
    Claude Lavergne
    Eric Longsworth
  • production consultant
    Dean Jobb
  • art direction
    Alex Busby
  • production assistant
    Iain MacLeod
    Paul Mitcheltree
    Gillian Matheson
  • additional photography
    Kyle Cameron
    Mike Mahoney
  • set construction
    Scott MacFarlane
  • research
    Paul Cowan
  • location scout
    Margo Mosher
  • technical coordinator
    Patricia Coughran
    Claude Cardinal
  • sound editor
    Alex Salter
  • re-recording
    Jean Paul Vialard
    Shelley Craig
  • titles
    NFB Visual Effects Services
  • studio clerk
    Stephanie Coolen
    Vanessa Larsen
  • program administrator
    John William Lutz
  • executive producer
    Sally Bochner

  • antigonishfree

    I didn't realize that a movie had been made. I would have liked to been interviewed. I worked in Coal Lab on May 6th completed the coal dust test and was first hand witness to what can be only described the the criminal response of Parry and Phillips when I phoned in results of the 4 samples that were brought to my lab., For some reason I was never called to testify at inquiry although I was supposed to be called to testify for prosecution. I will sit down to watch this movie at some point soon. It has been 20 years since this happened and this is still raw for me. After being confronted by mine management on May 6th and being accused of not following proper protocol they left convinced I was wrong. They had at the time two options when they left lab. Either prove I was wrong or shut the mine down and clean it up. They did neither and when they made that choice it in my opinion became criminal. I have over the years read many articles focusing on improperly function methane detectors and their impact on explosion. It may or may not have been primary source of ignition. In my opinion however this was only used by government officials and mine managers as a smokesrceen to keep everyone from focusing on what happened on May 6th. I say this because in September of that year I was interviewed by the lead investigator of Labour Department, who was investigating for possble violations. He told me straight up that he didn't trust some of the people for which he was working. I did have opportunity to be interviewed for 5th estate piece in months after explosion but was afraid of repercussion for myself and family, a decision I now regret. Twenty years on I wish I had done so as I think it would have made difference in how this played out in the public forum. I did everything I could after explosion to expose this by going to police and making statement without conditions. My only regret in all this was not telling Robbie Doyle and Larry Bell on May 6th what happened that day when they arrived at work for night shift. I don't think it would have been a surprise to them but they should have known the risks. I spoke to both of them before leaving lab but it was end of 12 hour shift, my last one before explosion, I was tired and sadly naive thinking that people in charge were going to do right thing and fix problem. Rob T

    antigonishfree, 30 Apr 2012
  • dmmackay

    This film Westray is a required assignment to watch for N.S.C.C. Academic English. I find it distrubing in watching the film in of Westray. It's distrubing to me so many people had accidents and injuries, and some even lost their lives. As this assignment deals with the Worker's Compensation Board, I am curious to do some research on this particular incident and and if there are any workers, or worker's families form Westray that had suffered personal injuries or Death that had filed claims with the W.C.B., and if they had filed a claim with the Worker's Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, what were their experiences. Was the W.C.B. of N.S. helpful? I sincerely with you all the best.

    dmmackay, 15 Nov 2011
  • dmmackay

    As one of the requirement for N.S.C.C. it to watch this film; I am wondering about all the people who's lives were affected with this tragidy. In particular I am wondering who was injured as a result of their work, and if any had gone to the Worker's Compensation Board of Nova Scotia; and what help did they get? dmmackay@hotmail.com

    dmmackay, 9 Nov 2011

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