Scene from the film White Coal
Scene from the film White Coal
Scene from the film White Coal
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White Coal

  • Austria
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A mound of coal, black dust dissipating into the air, a stone statue of a worker: These are the opening images of White Coal.

Loosely inspired by Hermann Melville's "The Confidence Man", the story of a blind passenger aboard a Mississippi steamboat, the first thread of White Coal follows the journey of a Polish coal transport ship and a male figure dressed as in silent movies of the proletarian heyday.

Always seeming to appear as if someone had called for him, this man wanders around a disintegrating industrial town aimlessly. We see dogs barking, and the sounds of heavy industry linger in the air. He enters a ship furtively, apparently unaware that it is a coal ship set to travel on down a narrow river. It is as if the boat had the entire crew under a spell cast by its slow but steady motion. Only minimal movements are possible on board this ship, and the "blind passenger" becomes the spectator of this self-contained routine.

The film's second thread portrays the physical structures and environment in which coal is exploited at the world's largest coal-burning power plant, located in Taychung, Taiwan.

Here color enters the film, yet it feels like the present is falling behind the past, industrial landscapes, truck transports, giant chimneys burning coal, monitoring stations following their own beat. Computers out of order and people scooting around in chairs. The drone of the Polish coal ship is mirrored by the crushing din of industry, then cancelled out by an aseptic control room vacuum that swallows whatever might otherwise be a human gesture.

This is Melville's steamboat, chugging slowly and unstoppably down a river with no end, where human beings have no voice with which to speak and exist encapsulated in their own imagined present tense.

Although the film uses the material as the primary source of its investigation, White Coal is less a film about coal than an exploration of industrial film motifs from the 1920s to the present.


  • Original Title
    White Coal
  • Direction
  • Screenplay
    Georg Tiller
  • Cinematography
    Claudio Pfeifer
  • Editing
    Viktor Hoffmann
  • Sound
    Georg Tiller
  • Runtime
    69 min (46-90 min.)
  • Year
  • Country
    • Austria
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Festivals
    • 2015 International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    • 2015 Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea
    • 2015 DokuFest Prizren, Kosovo
    • 2015 Festival do Rio, Brazil
    • 2015 Viennale Film Festival, Austria
    • 2015 Planeta.Doc, Brazil
    • 2015 Porto/ Post/ Doc, Portugal
  • Awards
    • Nominated for FIPRESCI Award - IFF Rotterdam
    • Special Jury Mention - Dokufest Prizren is powered by Doc Alliance, a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.

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