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tv   Bay Area Focus With Susan Sikora  CW  June 19, 2011 8:00am-8:30am PDT

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a new film blames reckless coal mining in appalachia for health hazards nationwide csm we stop the damage to both land scape and citizens? we will ask activist robert kennedy, jr., and catch up with actress between performances of her one woman show now playing in berkeley. that's on bay area focus next.
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welcome to the show. there is an adage we all heard that those who can't do, teach. award winning actress and teacher anna deveer smith proves otherwise. anna talked at stanford, yale and nyu and the university of southern california. some of her work, films such as philadelphia, the american president and rachel getting
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married. tv roles include the west wing and there is jackie. but it's on stage anna deveer smith has worked most boldly by creating concept and script and performing to a critical acclaim one woman plays with a point of view. her third latest show, let me down easy at the berkeley repertory theater takes on health care. take a look. >> now i was not the first woman governor of texas. well, in the 20s there was pa ferguson who was governor. and pa was married to ma. and pa died. and ma became governor. now she was the one when asked about bilingual education who said, if the length rsh language -- english language is good enough for jesus christ,
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it's good enough for everybody. >> anna deveer smith, welcome, good to have you here. i looked forward to meeting you for a long time. i'm a fan of your work. thank you. it's interesting. as a woman who creates one woman shows, you don't just start with an audition. you start with a blank page. don't you? >> yeah, not even a page because i make my work by interviewing people. the piece of paper and pencil comes later. i really go out on the road and start interviewing people with a tape recorder. and i take those words and in the case of let me down easy which i'm here to talk about today, i interviewed 320 people on three continents and then i take all that stuff and whittle it down to an evening in the theater. in this case an hour and 37 minutes long. >> does the process start with something that is kind of a fire in your belly about a particular issue and then find
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the people or talk to people? >> i usually have an idea in mind. in this case this play started because i was invited to go to the yale school of medicine and talk to doctors and patients. that was a great experience that five years later i thought, maybe the area of the human body, health, our -- we are all vulnerable. never know when the shoe is going drop. on the other hand we have incredible powers with our bodies. so i decided to look at that as a theme. >> okay. so the health issue certainly is one -- and i think when you express it through people and their experiences, it's a lot different than going up and making a speech. >> you know, we have so-called debate about health care in the country right now. and so michael with this version of let me down easy and there were other versions before this one was to have it tell the human side of the story that's playing out in
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politics. the pressure has to be heightened i would think. when you do a one woman show. you have done -- this is the third. >> actually, this is like the 18th. >> sorry! >> the only ones that are known. i started this process way back in the late 70s, early 80s of interviewing people and performing my overall -- is on the road and search for american character. and two of the better well- known plays are about racial tension and then this one about health care are all part of that. >> here is my question to you, you are the one. you are it. people come there and they are going to want to see what you have to say. people who are passionate about health care and vary ylings problems -- various problems. it's anna deveer smith, she is unique in what she does with the writing and creating and performing. what happens when you get laryngitis? >> that's not a good question.
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let's just -- do we have -- let's not put that -- >> in our -- they make sure you have an understudy. you can have one but people will say i want to come back when she is doing it. >> actually a very good question. it's like maintaining vocal health. if you notice i didn't shake your hand and stuff like that. i have to live a certain way. i can't go out. i live a monkish existence. most restaurants are too loud. when you are like that you realize how loud everything is. you screaming. >> does it make it hard to work with a director? you have quite a prestigious director on thises in leonard, wonderful director. >> and he did master class and also thorogood. >> yeah. >> and many other things but those two recent. what happens when you who has created this and you perform it? this is your baby. no one will argue with that, but the director says think you should do it this way.
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>> it's a one person show but i work with a team of people and i have coaches that work with me and the director has an incredible responsibility and job and an opportunity to make a place where this can happen. not like a play that takes place in the living room or in a restaurant and takes place in a boxing gym and takes place in these places and outside and bull riders, rodeo ring. these are the characters. how do you put that together in one space? the director has to come up with that idea along with the designers. so in my case the director's responsibility are a little different than the traditional play. there still is a range of responsibility and most people who come back stage remark on the beauty of this production. and that is absolutely to be credited to leonard and the designers he work with. and it's a chemistry between the two of you have to be doing
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a dance. >> absolutely. >> okay. you said once and i'm quoting here, you were quoted as say doing you want to be an artist the whole world will look at you or want to be an artest to use your ability to attract attention to have the world see itself through you differently? >> what do you want people to take home from -- >> you have been studying. >> that comes from my book letters for young artists. >> let's plug that book right now. go get your copy on that's something i'm trying to put forward to younger artists. i think that this is the time is right to use your position as an artest to say things that politicians can't say. that the media are not going to say or will be interested in. politics in the media tend to be interested in extremes, they aren't interested in the grey area. what i'm trying to offer there to young people is to use these fabulous skills that you have. to attract attention not just
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to you but to something going on in the world. >> we got to take a break and we will come back and talk about making it as an actor and if you have an interest in that we will get advice from someone who certainly is doing it.
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we are back with anna deveer smith. you have i think a lot of wisdom to give to young actors starting out. and a lot of kids especially when you see the reality show and america got talent and america got voice and america got -- whatever the number. these kids want to be stars. and i'm sure you run into that -- you taught at yale and nyu, stanford. what do you tell aspiring actors as the best advice that you could give them for starting out. >> letters for young artist is my book too we were joking about a minute ago is all about. that what i try -- first of all, becoming a star is a bunch of variety of things that you may or may not have control over. i don't actually think myself that's a very good pursuit and you have to question why you are pursuing that in a society that is full of celebrity and reveer it for good reasons and bad reasons. one reason is to find out something about you and bless all over the world that you
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don't want people to know. it's not necessarily a great predicament. we will call tapredicament. but again i think that what you can do with this natural ability that you have to attract attention is turn the camera passed you going on in something in the world. and another thing i try to say to aspiring actors is that you got to know what you are doing. i say look, put a sign in your -- on your mirror that says the man has the power but so do i. you will always be in a position where somebody is making a decision about what you can do. if you live your life flying around, pushed around by other people's decisions you don't have a sense of yourself. as actors we don't have a lifetime career. we have a job for four months or two days. >> that's why you are say as good as your last show. >> or as good as your luck. you have to create the
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connective tissues. i try get that across to the idea of authority over your life. >> i want to know how you choose your roles. you are used to doing your own material as well. i would think your maybe your process of deciding that discernment if you will about whether you will take a role or not is maybe different than another actress. for instance, you played i said this when you sat down, you played the secretary in the law firm in philadelphia when they are trying to nail tom hanks for having aids and get rid of them. trying to establish prejudice on the part of the law firm and you were up on that stand, the witness stand and they asked you about if they ever said anything to you about anything a woman of color or anything that implied prejudice and you said my earrings and what did they say? you said they said they were too ethnic. and i could just hear the way you said that. and i think that -- it's a memorable thing. it wasn't the lead, but it's memorable. how do you decide that when you look at the script.
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>> it's not just my decision. back to what i said before. the authority that other people have. there are many takes taken of that. i was working with an incredible director, jonathan determining. he took many takes of that moment. he and his editor picked that take. i give my best. >> you gave them the choice. >> i give my best i can but i am not there to pick what they do. you have to be on top of your game. >> one last question, people who are in the san francisco area which you have connections but are based in new york, do they need to at some point pick up and go to new york city or l.a. or can they make a living here at a working actress. >> that's a good question. sanfrancisco has changed since the time i was here and it might be easier. but the enact is that in the lifetime is that the actors you are calling out to right now if it could be do they need to be in beijing? is that we do live in the smaller global community right
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now. and so it might start like when i started is do you need go to new york or l.a. might end up being do you need to be in beijing or nairobi. you go where there is the opportunity and you find a cheap flight and you just go and you are a gypsy and that's what you need to do. >> got to be careful with not having roots. that thing about you have to be the through line. >> the theater is the place where you play 25 characters. >> 20 characters. who is counting. >> she is actually. and it's going to be extended to july 10 so you can catch anna deveer smith and the show is called let me down easy. it was a pleasure to have you here. come back. >> thank you very much for the great questions for those actors out there. it's good questions. >> bobby kennedy, jr., is next.
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in the manner of his politically famous family, lawyer and activist bobby kennedy, jr., has focused on a cause. the environment. he is working to stop mountaintop dynamiting for coal in appalachia. his efforts are featured in a new film the last mountain. it examines the conflict between big coal corporations and locals seeing their mountains ruined and their health threatened. in the "new york times" review of the film, janet writes, quote, the residents of the coal river valley in west virginia endure ear splitting explosions, raining boulders, toxic sludge and poisoned wells. the environmental horror story
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is filled with impearled school children, dust and cancer and autism clusters that defy statistical logic. take a look. i have three sons who have asthma. we know asthma attack are caused by bad air, by ozone particulates and the principal source in our atmosphere are hundreds of coal burning power plants that are burning coal illegally it's been illegal for 18 years under the clean air act they were supposed to remove those materials from their emissions 18 years ago. but in a state where corpgs can easily come in the state political landscapes they were not required to comply with the law so there are hundreds of them that are violating this critical law. but this is an industry tadonated enormous amounts to president bush during the 2000 cycle and one of the first things that the bush administration did when it came
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into office was to abolish the new source rule. this was the most important rule in the entire clean air act. it is the heart and soul of that statute and that's the rule that requires those coal burning power plants to clean up their emissions 18 years ago. so now i'm going to be able to watch my children gasping for air on bad air days because somebody gave money to a politician. >> bobby kennedy, jr., welcome. this is a scary movie. >> well, you know, the movie i think one of the reasons the film makers focused on appalachia is when they were telling the story is because it's not just a story of the destruction of the environment but is the version of democracy. over the past ten years these companies mainly mask the
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energy which has specialized in mountaintop removal mining has blown up 500 of the biggest mountains in west virginia. if you filled 25 feet of hudson river stream, we would put you in jail. if you blew up a mountain in the berkshires or in california the sierras or in utah, you would be put in a place for criminally insane people. but in west virginia they blown up 500 mountains. they buried 25 feet but 2500 miles of rivers and streams and they over the past ten years have flattened an area larger than the state of delaware. the oldest mountain range in the northern hemisphere and it's all illegal and the only way they get away with it is by sub verting democracy. i debated don blankenship who is the ceo and made $190 million in personal salary over the past ten years. i debated him on west virginia tv last year and i said you are
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by your own admission your companies had 67,000 violations of the clean water act over the previous five years. you had tens of thousands of violations of other mine safety in health laws. is it possible for your company to make a profit without violating a law? >> i'm going to stop you there. we have another clip of the film that i think also shows people what exactly what you are talking about here. let's take one more look. >> our last great mountain here in the coal river valley that hasn't been blasted to ashes. >> i know we live in a very intelligent country that has the ability to create energy without blowing up mountains. these coal companies are absolutely raping and stealing the land water and air that all of us thought was ours. >> people have had enough and
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they are standing up to the coal companies. >> greatest reform of the coal minding industry is being pushed by citizen activists. fight over coal river mountain is a fight about democracy. >> now they take the tops of the mountain off with this stuff. is that how they all mined for coal or was it different? >> when my father was fighting strip mining in appalachia back in the 60s they had 151,000 unionized mine workers taking coal out of tunnels in the ground. today through a strategy by the industry, a ruthless merciless relentless strategy to replace human labors with machinery, they now have changed the way the mining is done. so instead of sending men under the ground to get the coal, they blow the mountains up to get at the coal seams beneath and take the rock debris, rubble and scrape it into the
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adjacent river valley. and it's really extraordinary. you couldn't do it anywhere else. people thought -- if people saw what was going on, they would revolt against it and they -- the entire industry is based upon the assumption that they are going to have to violate the law to do it but they will sush vert democracy in order to get away with it. so they corrupt the public officials, they capture the agencies. there is -- protect americans from pollution. >> what about the jobs? i know in the scenes you were out there the at protest and they were saying to you go home because there were people there worried they won't have -- i don't want to ruin the atmosphere or the planet and don't want to ruin my health, i don't want to be out of a job. >> is that story of local people who are trying to fight the industry and i have been fighting with them on their side for 27 years as people actually live in the communities. they understand that the decrease in jobs is not occurred because of
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environmental laws. the decrease in jobs has happened because of mountaintop removal mining. it allows them to bring more coal out of west virginia by using fewer people. so as i said when my father was fighting this in the 60s, there were 150,000 unionized mine workers. today nine of ten of those jobs were removed and only 15,000 miners in the state. fewer than half of them are unionized because strip industry crushed the unions particularly massey coal. they are taking twice as much coal out of west virginia as they were in 1968. the only difference is back then at least some of that money was being left in west virginia for salaries, pensions and reinvestment into the community. today all of it goes straight up to wall street. it's not me that's coming from out of town. it's the companies that are whroaing up appalachian. 95% of the coal in appalachia is owned by out of state interest. by wall street interest or coming into that state to liquidate the state for cash.
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using enough dynamite 2500 tons of dynamite a day. it's the equivalent of a hiroshima once a week. and they've flatten an area in ten years that is larger than the state of delaware. >> there is also -- the health issues for the people in the area and this is their way to make a living, certainly, they have seen clusters of autism in children and clusters and interesting in the film cancer. they said there were six cases on one street all brain cancer. that's pretty specific. >> there is study after study that shows if you live in anywhere near mountaintop removal site your chance of illness all kinds of illness, grim -- autism, mental retardation, heart, liver, kidney disease, eye infections, all of those are enormous because you are being rained down with toxic dust, sillca dust, mercury, lead, arsenic,
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all of this these really deadly chemicals day after day after day. and that's why one of the reasons businesses don't move to west virginia is because who wants to live in an area or locate their business in an area. >> i got to go. robert kennedy, jr., thank you for being here and bringing this to people's attention because it will affect us all. the pollutant goes into the air and affect everybody as well. but even if it didn't, it's a crime. the last mountain is now playing through -- well, it's playing ongoing i think and that's landmark and the last mountain and i'm susan sikora. thank you for watching. >> it would be a revolution in this country. we were cutting down the appalachian mountains literally. >> the all the way back ten or 12 miles. absolutely gigantic. >> they are blowing the tops off the mountain. get at the coal seams beneath. >> coal was sort of like a
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layer cake. you got to layer of rock, a layer of coal, layer of rock, layer of coal they keep this process up until they literally reduce the mountain to rubble. >> make 2500 tons explosives every day. and explosive power the size of a hiroshima bomb once a week. >> you feel like you are under attack. i mean it's happening two or three times a day. every day. upgraded meter. >> i am tired of stabbing my fingertips to test my blood
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