Area native eyes big screen for Knox Mine film

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First Posted: 1/26/2015

A California-based filmmaker originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania is in the post-production phase on a documentary about the Knox Mine Disaster.

Twelve miners died after over-mining caused the support walls to breach, allowing 10 billion gallons of icy Susquehanna River to flood the mine in January, 1959.

When finished, David Brocca’s film will detail the heartbreaking story of the men who died and the incredible tale of 69 others who made it out alive.

Brocca, who grew up in the Pittston area and now runs Pitch Films Productions in Los Angeles, hopes to have his feature-length documentary titled the Knox Mine Disaster ready for the fall film festivals.

The mine disaster is common knowledge in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but new to other parts of the world, Brocca said. Whenever he mentions the story to other film professionals “their eyes light up in disbelief,” he said. Add to that “a heroic escape, a corrupt coal company and a union that looked the other way, you have all the elements of a great documentary,” he added.

Restored footage

In 2014, Brocca and his cousin Al Brocca restored 40 reels of film footage from WBRE-TV at the University of Southern California’s film school. The footage included field reports from Jack Scanella, a local television news anchor who scrutinized and archived every detail of the event. He lead Brocca to the cache of film footage stored at WBRE’s station in Wilkes-Barre.

The documentary incorporates the vintage footage, including an infamous whirlpool that swallowed railroad cars as if they were toys, interviews with survivors, analysis from experts, discussions with reporters who covered the event, and more.

“The image of the whirlpool in the Susquehanna river always amazes people, especially once they are reminded of the miners below trying to get out,” he said. “Most people are surprised to hear that actually most of them survived,” he said.

“That is the main theme … survival through adversity — the hope, faith, and courage needed to fight your way out of a dreadful situation,” he added.

Aftermath in focus

The film also focuses on the drama of the Knox hearings, as investigators tried to place responsibility, and the struggles of communities to rebuild a regional economy left devastated after the flood effectively ended coal mining up and down the valley.

In October, the film received sponsorship from the International Documentary Association (IDA), which is a significant boost, Brocca said.

“The IDA has a history of aiding documentary filmmakers going back to the early 1980s and I’m very excited to have their support,” he said.

“I’ve always been fascinated with what the miners experienced,” Brocca said. “Imagine how horrifying it must of been, it’s pitch black, you’re only light source is your headlamp (until the battery runs out), and all known exits are cut off,” he said.

“I’m really championing to get this story on the big screen,” he said.

Anyone interested in contributing to the project is invited to like the Knox Mine Disaster Facebook page, or by visiting