By Brian Myszkowski
February 9, 2020 - A pair of filmmakers will return to their hometown region in Pennsylvania to present a fresh take on their distinctive documentary that tells the tragic tell of the Knox Mine disaster this Wednesday.
Albert and David Brocca show their documentary film Knox Mine Disaster at Pittston Area Senior High School.
Cousins Albert and David Brocca will present their re-cut film, Knox Mine Disaster, at the Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center, followed by a question and answer session, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 12.
The documentary tells the tale of the through an extensive collection of interviews, records, footage and artistic interpretations of the catastrophe that claimed the lives of 12 workers in Wyoming Valley on Jan. 22, 1959.
On that fateful day, workers for the Knox Coal Company had been excavating an area beneath the Susquehanna River. The force and weight of the icy waters broke through a thin layer of rock that separated the river bed and the excavation, dumping ten billion gallons of water into the mine and surrounding mines.
The Broccas were captivated by the local tale – Albert hails from Monroe County, whereas David grew up in Luzerne – and sought to bring the stories of the survivors, the victims and their families to life on the screen.
“My cousin, David Brocca, directed it and I produced it,” Albert Brocca said in an interview last year. “We met an author who wrote the book about the disaster in the Wyoming area, and he knew that we were filmmakers out in Los Angeles, and he thought it would be an interesting story for us to pursue.”
Over the course of a few years, the Broccas gathered information and interviews on the subject, visiting home to speak with those who had lived through the disaster. A Facebook page increased interest and momentum in the project. Eventually, the Broccas were able to obtain original footage of the infamous whirlpool from WBRE, which was restored and digitized at the California to the University of Southern California Archive Department.
Nearing completion, the Broccas were still looking out for something to set their story apart from other documentaries, something to grab hold of the viewers’ attentions and keep them focused. They found that bit of magic, quite appropriately, in the charcoal art of Ben Mackey.
Mackey’s vivid depictions of the stories the Broccas heard from survivors and family members were animated and spliced into the film, adding an affecting touch to the incredible tale.
Now, the Broccas are back with a revamped and fine-tuned version of their film for what they are calling the “Coal Town Tour.”
“We’re back in town,” Albert Brocca said. “We came back for Anthracite [Mining] Heritage Month, which is in January, and then on the 61st anniversary, we did our first show. Now, we’re back with a new cut. It’s 15 minutes shorter, and it blends everything perfectly.”
Brocca said that while showing the film over the course of the past year, they found that the animated portions of the program struck a chord with the audience, prompting the pair to weave more of the striking comic book-style artwork into the mix.
“This year, the cut is a lot more fluid,” Brocca said. “We did get more animations, because people loved the animations. So, we went back to the artist, Ben Mackey out of Arizona, and he was able to draw a lot more animations for us so that we could incorporate them into the film.”
On Jan. 21, just shy of the 61st anniversary of the disaster, the Broccas showed the Knox Mine Disaster at Pittston Area Senior High School in Luzerne County. Unsure of whether the historical documentary would capture the attention of the young crowd, Albert Brocca was shocked to find that students were enthralled with the story.
“My mind was blown,” Brocca said. “I was like, ‘Wow! This is awesome!’ If you can catch the attention of the kids and they put their cell phones down, it means we’ve done it, you know?”
This weekend, two showings of the film have been set for the Hamburg Strand Theater in Berks County. Albert Brocca said that he and his cousin are looking out for other venues, including independent theaters and other learning institutions, for additional showings.
Brocca said that one of the most fulfilling aspects of the film has been connecting with the families that were touched by the disaster itself, helping to immortalize the stories of a tragedy that forever changed the area, the industry and everything that surrounded it.
“It’s a really rewarding project, to do this documentary on this coal mining disaster that was basically the end of an era for eastern Pennsylvania mining,” Brocca said. “This area is so rich with coal history; it dates back generations. Now, in this modern time when we show the film, a lot of family members come out and say, ‘I’m so glad you made this film, because it really highlights what my grandfather and great-grandfather did to establish the industry of early America.’”
Knox Mine Disaster tickets for the Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center showing are available for $10 online in advance, or for $12 at the door.