Challenging Stereotypes and Confronting Injustice  

Having grown up in Kentucky, I thought I knew Appalachia. I thought I knew what it meant to be a coal miner. I thought I understood the ways in which the land had shaped the people. I thought I knew what it looked like to raise a family there, to provide, to do what’s right. But after beginning this project nearly 10 years ago, I learned that it’s a place of coal and contradictions. 

This film is largely about those contradictions. For those on the outside, like myself, the answers seem easy. Coal is bad. Water is life. Don’t blow up the mountains. What’s hard to see from the outside is the reason folks are so dedicated to the very industry that ultimately, and statistically, ends their lives 10 years earlier than other Americans. This is because the region has been engineered to support only one economy, a coal economy, leaving families with only one option: a job in the coal mine. Even though that very coal company may blow up your land, it’s also the company that signs your paychecks, that gives you health insurance, and that feeds your children. And people fight fiercely to defend their families. 

In the process called mountaintop removal coal mining, “overburden” is a term used to define the rock, soil, trees and ecosystem that lie above a seam of coal. This overburden is blasted and bulldozed away to access the coal below. It is shoved into valleys, discarded, much like the people who live and work in those valleys are cast aside. The goal of this film is to humanize those people, to explore the complicated issues and to spark conversation that can move beyond the expected and polarizing debates and allow viewers to access an empathetic view of a people and a place that few Americans truly understand.


Overburden on public television

In 2017 OVERBURDEN broadcast on the Reel South public television series. You can find it on your local public television stations or through the WORLD Channel. 



Best Environmental Film // New York WILD Film Festival // 2016

Jack Spadaro Documentary Award // Appalachian Studies Association // 2016

Spotlight Film Awards Gold Award // Selected as one of the best documentaries of the year // 2015
Special Jury Prize // Amsterdam Film Festival // Amsterdam, Netherlands // 2015

Special Jury Mention // Banff Mountain Film Festival // 2015

“As filmmakers it is often our task to portray the difficult and unglamorous. When a community goes into battle to defend their rights for their environment, their families, and their lives the job of the camera is to bear witness with such expertise that it’s impossible for the audience to turn away. One film stood out for its transparency and dedication to the film making process.”
Duke University Nicholas School Environmental Award // honorable mention // Full Frame Film Festival, 2015

“Overburden, directed by Chad A. Stevens, received an Honorable Mention from the Nicholas School Environmental Award Jury. In this film, an environmentalist and a former pro-coal activist in the heart of Appalachia join forces to protect their home from the industry that’s divided their community for decades.”

Transitions Film Festival (Australian Premiere). Melbourne, Australia. February 26, 2016.

Brescia Winter Film 2015 (European Premiere). Brescia, Italy. December 15, 2015.
Banff Mountain Film Festival (International Premiere). Banff, Alberta, CA. November 1, 2015.

Lyons Film Festival. Lyons, CO. June 4, 2016.

Rainier Independent Film Festival. Ashford, WA. May 15, 2016.

Athens International Film and Video Festival. Athens, OH. April 9, 2016.

The Environmental Film Festival at Yale University. New Haven, CT. April 9, 2016. 

Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Washington, D.C. March 21, 2016.

Project Native Film Festival. South Hadley and Great Barrington, MA. March 5, 12-13, 2016.

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Missoula, MT. February 24, 2016.

Colorado Environmental Film Festival. Golden, CO. February 20, 2016.

RVA Environmental Film Festival. Richmond, VA. February 6, 2016.

New York WILD Film Festival. New York, NY. January 30, 2016.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Nevada City, CA. January 16, 2016.

Red Rock Film Festival. Canyon City, UT. November 7, 2015.

American Conservation Film Festival. Shepherdstown, WV. October 24, 2015.

Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival. Syracuse, NY. September 25, 2015.

DocuWest International Film Festival. Denver, CO. September 11, 2015.

San Francisco Green Film Festival. San Francisco, CA. May 30, 2015.

Full Frame Film Festival. Durham, NC. April 10, 2015.