Karl Tupper

Karl Tupper

Walking up river with two powerful films

Once there was a village along a river.
The people who lived here were very kind.
These residents, according to parable, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river's swift current.
And so they went to work, devising ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them.
So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment, that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.
This is a walk up that river.

So begins Living Downstream, a new film based on book of the same name by ecologist, poet, and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber. In the tradition of Silent Spring, the film examines the connections between human health and the health of the environment, and questions whether polluted ecosystems can sustain healthy communities. The film highlights atrazine and other chemicals linked to cancer that contaminate our bodies and our environments.


If you live in Illinois, you'll have the opportunity this later this month to see Living Downstream and participate in Q&A's with Steingraber and director Chanda Chevannes. PAN, in collaboration with the Illinois-based non-profit The Land Connection, is honored to be a sponsor of the five screenings. Here's the schedule:

October 16 :: 7:00 pm, Champaign-Urbana, The Art Theater.
October 17
:: 1:00 pm, Bloomington-Normal, the Normal Theater.
October 17
:: 7:00 pm, Springfield, Hoogland Center for the Arts. Cosponsored by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
October 18
:: 7:00 pm, Peoria, the Peoria Theater. Cosponsored by Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste.
October 19
:: 7:00 pm, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art.

For more information and to buy tickets.

Another film premiering in the Midwest this month looks at an actual river—the Mississippi—and the huge dead zone that forms at it's outfall in Gulf of Mexico every year. In Troubled Waters, filmmaker Larkin McPhee travels up that river, interviewing scientists, farmers, and others to discover the source of the problem and its potential solutions. She finds that it's caused by excess nutrients washing off of farms and ranches in the river's watershed, which feed massive algae blooms in the Gulf each summer. When these blooms die, their decomposition process consumes oxygen. Fish and other organisms that rely on this dissolved oxygen can't survive, and the dead zone is created. Agriculture, in particular the industrial kind, is the primary culprit, and farmers are critical to the solution. The film highlights innovative farmers who are developing the practices that will revive the Gulf.

None of this should have been controversial—the science has been known for years—but it was. As first reported in the Twin Cities Daily Planet, without warning the University of Minnesota cancelled the Troubled Waters' October 3rd premier at the Bell Museum of Natural History and pulled the plug on its public television debut, which had been scheduled for today, October 5th. This, despite the film being funded in large part by the state legislature, and having already been thoroughly vetted by U of M scientists.

The Star Tribune and others have reported that Karen Himle, the university's Vice President for University Relations, was behind the move to quash the film. Her close relations to Big Ag (her husband founded the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council) have led many to question whether corporate agriculture interests were behind the 11th hour attempt to kill the screenings.

I use the word "attempt" because thanks in large part to one of PAN's partners, the Land Stewardship Project, the October 3rd premier went ahead as originally planned, and the film has been re-added to the pubic television schedule. In addition to calling for the film to be screened as planned, LSP and its partners have also asked for the resignation of Himle and the strengthening of conflict-of-interest rules at U of M.

One thing is for sure: because of the controversy, there's a lot more interest in Troubled Waters now then there otherwise would have been. So far, screenings outside of Minnesota have not been announced, but I expect that people in other states will have chances to see the film eventually. As for Living Downstream, in addition to the Illinois tour, it's playing at film festivals and special events around the country. Check the film's website for more info.

Karl Tupper

Karl Tupper

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