David Brocca has lived in Los Angeles for nearly 15 years, but his passion for filmmaking has led him to become immersed in the Greater Pittston area.
The West Pittston native is in the process of completing a 90-minute documentary about the 1959 Knox Mine Disaster, which occurred when coal miners were illegally digging under the Susquehanna River, tunneling sharply upwards toward the river bed.
Eventually, the water and mine roof collapsed into the mine, killing 12 of the 81 workers.
“It is very personal at just the level that this is my hometown and I’m proud of where I come from,” Brocca said of making the documentary. “I do feel a responsibility to tell this story as best as I can.”
An idea born
Brocca, 37, had no real intention of making a documentary on the Knox Mine Disaster until he was approached by Robert Wolensky, author of the 1999 book “The Knox Mine Disaster.”
The two met a funeral and were introduced by Brocca’s uncle.
“I wasn’t very interested (in doing a documentary on the Knox Mine Disaster) because I was more into fictional, narrative type stuff,” said Brocca. “But, after I read (Wolensky’s) book I felt like it was a such a compelling story that I should do interviews with surviving miners.”
The process for making the documentary began in 2008 when Brocca, along with his cousin and fellow producer Albert Brocco, who also lives in Los Angeles, came back to the Greater Pittston area to interview survivors and family members of those who perished in the Knox Mine.
Brocca said one interview often led him to other interviews, and one story really stuck with him.
“Audrey Calvey Baloga is the quintessential coal miner’s daughter and her father was one of the 12 men who died,” he said. “We heard how that changed her life and how her family struggled because the bread winner was no longer with them. Her and her brothers had to go to work and her mother’s heart was broken. That was one of the more touching portions of the film.”
Brocca said he did not have family in the Knox Mine Disaster, but did have a coal mining great-grandfather die in an accident on the job in Plains Township.
After interviews were completed, the cousins put together an anniversary film with their interviews and showed it in 2009 before shelving it until 2011.
Brocca said they were given 16-mm footage of the of the 1959 event with the help local newsman Jack Scanella and Thomas Gregory of WBRE-TV, where the reels were stored.
The cousins went back to Lose Angeles to begin restoring the footage.
“At the University of Southern California they have this homemade scanning system that takes a picture of each frame and puts it into a Quicktime file, so all of the 16-mm film footage has been converted to a 2K high definition image,” Brocca said. “That’s in order to match what we shot, because we shot the modern interviews in high def as well. It’s been an ongoing process for the past year, and we sill have a few to go.”
Despite the numerous trips from one side of the country to another, Brocca is happy to make those trips as he still has family in Greater Pittston.
“It’s been a blessing because it allow me to spend time with my family,” he said. “When I was working on projects solely in Los Angeles, two years would go by before I could come home to my family. That’s the benefit, that I get to spend more time with my family.”
Funding a film
Because the Knox Mine Disaster documentary has a low budget and isn’t backed by a studio, Brocca said funding is still needed to help complete the documentary.
The Broccas have raised $10,000 through various local events, but they need $60,000 to help finish the documentary, which includes illustrations, animations of what the miners experienced underground, sound mix, color correction and transcribing older footage.
“The truth is we have to raise the funds to finish it, so once we raise the funds it’ll still be a few months before we can utilize those funds and finish the film,” Brocca said. “My dream is to have it done by the end of this year, but it all swings on if we can raise the full budget.”
A future event that will help with funds will be held at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock on Wednesday, March 23.
Brocca said he will show 20 minutes of the documentary, which is more than he has ever showed before and will include footage that has never before been seen.
“Even if people went to a previous dinner, they can come to the Dietrich and see parts of the film I haven’t shown before,” Brocca said. “Donations will be collected at the show, but admission is free.”
The event is sponsored by Susquehanna Brewing Company and there will be a beer tasting after the presentation.
Brocca said he will do more benefits throughout the area and possibly in the Philadelphia area.
Once the film is complete he hopes to premiere it somewhere in the Wyoming Valley, but he said he will cross that bridge when the time comes.
“I hope people come out and are able to contribute to the film,” he said. “It’s our history, our culture and I want to pay tribute to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers that made a great sacrifice, so that we can have better lives.”
Brocca graduated from Wyoming Area High School in 1996 and then from Penn State University in 2001 before moving out to Los Angeles, California to pursue filmmaking.
The Knox Mine Disaster documentary is not Brocca’s first foray into filmmaking; his credentials include winning an Independent Spirit Award in 2007 for a short film he did called “Independence.”
Brocca also worked as a cinematographer on the third season of “Deadliest Warrior” on Spike TV.
He’s worked as a producer MTV Networks and through the past decade has produced over 350 video segments for companies such as Spike TV, Comedy Central, MTV, IFC, and Mel Gibson’s Icon.
He has also produced music videos and commercials.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher