A less than stellar outing for the National Film Board of Canada, “Westray” may be of passing interest to older Canadians, but will be a tough sell even to pubcasters in other countries.
Nova Scotia’s Westray mine, which became the site of the worst mining disaster in Canadian history, opened on Sept. 11, 1991, 10 years before that date became forever associated with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The bulk of Paul Cowan’s impressive-looking black-and-white docu (transferred from video to 35mm) is focused on the people who survived the methane and coal-dust explosion that took 26 lives — chain-smoking wives and workers who reenact scenes from the previous decade. Most questionable is a former pit boss pretending to stagger drunk down railroad tracks, brown paper bag in hand. The story is “helped” by two narrators who never stop editorializing about the participants recollections. The few video snippets from the legal inquiry into the event (for which virtually no one was punished) show how much more dramatic the tale could have been, given a straighter treatment.