Coal plants are the greatest source of the carbon pollution threatening our health and contributing to climate change. And so given this year’s Annual Meeting theme, it’s fitting that National Geographic’s compelling feature documentary film “From the Ashes” opened this year’s APHA Global Public Health Film Festival yesterday.

The film — by Emmy-nominated director Michael Bonfiglio — originally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and explores the U.S. coal mining industry’s impact on communities across the nation. It looks at what is at stake for our economy, health and climate moving forward and at a time when the Trump administration seeks to repeal the Clean Power Plan and pull out of the Paris climate agreement. In particular, the film highlights the plight of coal miners who feel left behind by the declining industry and presents home-grown economic solutions from the very communities whose economies and livelihoods are so intertwined with coal.

“It’s not jobs versus the environment,” said Sydney Beaumont, the film’s producer, during a panel discussion following the viewing. “It’s about changing the tone of the conversation to a just transition from coal to clean energy. Steps are being taken in the right direction — despite the current political climate. Renewable energy has created 25,000 jobs so far and solar, wind and geothermal technology and jobs are growing.”

Panelist and a major player in the film, Cherelle Blazer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, called on film festival attendees to help mobilize communities to take action on climate change.

“People may not understand how they’re being affected by climate change, but they are every day,” Blazer said. “It’s important that we do all we can to protect our health from its impacts. Film has the potential to affect positive change, but we also have to organize at the grass roots, to bang on every door.”

Pamela Luna, co-chair of the film festival and the panel’s moderator, agreed, adding that the medium of film is especially adept at jumpstarting discussions about health in creative ways.

“In a highly charged political environment, films like this help us find new ways to talk about public health,” said Luna. “Film has the power to educate and mobilize people we could never reach.”

Beaumont elaborated: “Through the technique of storytelling, we put a human face on the coal industry’s environmental and public health impacts. We see and hear from those affected by contaminated drinking water, pollution-induced asthma and more — from Appalachia to the Powder River Basin out West — and it resonates. It makes people think about the impacts in their own communities and lives.”

Panelist Nik Steinberg, director of analytics with Four Twenty Seven, which blends economic modeling with climate science, added, “For some the climate change connection is more obvious than for others. The California wildfires and the climate whiplash of heavy downpours and heat waves, the coastal hurricanes…it’s not always so clear, though. As the film shows, cities can fill the gaps where the federal government steps out. Just look at the 350 cities in 44 states across the U.S. that adopted the Paris climate accord after the U.S. pulled out this summer.”

The APHA Global Health Film Festival, sponsored by the Kresge Foundation, hosts Annual Meeting sessions through Tuesday and features a selection of films, documentaries, narratives, public service announcements, educational videos, short clips and more. Check the complete film festival schedule in the APHA 2017 Mobile App or in the Online Program.