Working Films’ co-director, Molly Murphy will present as part of the Media Impact Tools Showcase: Meet the Experts panel at the CSMI’s 11th annual Media that Matters conference. Check out CMSI’s interview with her for a glimpse of what she’ll cover:
1. WHAT DO YOU DO? HOW IS YOUR WORK BREAKING NEW GROUND?
I co-direct Working Films, a fifteen-year-old national nonprofit that uses documentary media to advance social justice and environmental sustainability. We broker strategic partnerships between filmmakers, nonprofits, and issue experts so that every time a viewer asks, “What Can I Do?” we have an answer. We utilize documentary storytelling to build community participation in issues that impact people’s lives. We support coalition building by designing and coordinating collaborative film initiatives that deepen the relationships among organizations within and across issue areas. We also offer training and technical assistance to nonprofits and issue leaders to increase their capacity to use films and interactive documentary media to reach their goals.
Right now, Working Films is focused on using story-driven films and interactive media to advance organizing for solutions to climate change, dirty energy practices, and economic inequality. As states have increasingly become the battlegrounds for social and environmental issues, we have started using documentaries to strengthen civic engagement at the state and local-level. In just the last year, we’ve partnered with more than a hundred organizations to launch collaborative community engagement campaigns in North Carolina, Maine, Texas, and Tennessee. We are now starting to replicate the best practices we’ve gleaned from these efforts as we expand our work to many other states this year.
In each state in which we’ve worked we we’ve contributed to a shift in nonprofits’ and grassroots organizations’ perception of what documentary film and participatory art can accomplish. Through our trainings, strategy convenings, technical assistance, and events, organizations are increasing their commitment to film as a critical component in their communications and advocacy toolbox.
2. HOW DID YOU GET WHERE YOU ARE? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE IN THE PAST?
I joined Working Films in the summer of 2001. I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia when I received the job announcement and came back to the town where I’d recently graduated college to take the first full time staff position alongside our late founding director, Robert West. My background before joining Working Films was in campus and community organizing. I used films to interest and involve people in issues of economic and criminal injustice, and to bring together diverse sectors of a deeply segregated southern community. In my time at Working Films, I have served as outreach coordinator, engagement coordinator (when that term replaced “outreach”), director of community initiatives, deputy director, and now co-director.
3. WHAT CURRENT OR FUTURE PROJECTS DO YOU WANT TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT?
Working Films’ primary programmatic initiative is Reel Engagement, which positions award-winning documentary media in target states across the U.S. to address major issues of our time. As I mentioned above, we are focusing on advancing solutions to climate change, dirty energy practices, and economic inequality. We are working in states where these issues are at a tipping point, where there is potential to reach beyond “the choir”, and where efforts can provide innovative models for change across the nation.
Working Films recently started using short form documentaries. We’ve found that shorter lengths offer more time for face-to-face information sharing, discussion, and action when the lights come up. We’ve also begun working with multi-media installations that fuse documentaries and visual art. The art adds another point of entry and more dynamic ways for viewers to interact.
Coal Ash Stories represents our first foray into shorts. We responded to the Duke Energy coal ash spill in the Dan River in North Carolina by identifying four short films that have been paired with issue and policy experts in cities and towns around the state to educate residents and draw public and political attention to the toxic impact of the disaster. Now Coal Ash Stories is expanding to Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida. We have started pairing the series with NYC based artist Greg Lindquist’s Smoke & Water: A Living Painting installation.
We are finalizing another series of shorts about energy extraction that will be used in target states. And we will work with Michael Premo and Andrew Stern’s Water Warriorsmulti-media exhibition this spring to engage communities threatened by fracking.
We will also be expanding our economic justice efforts this year, with a focus on supporting organizing by low wage workers, addressing the racial wealth divide, and advancing a clean energy economy.
4. WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES MEDIA A POWERFUL TOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE?
Very simply, visual media can express things that words can’t. Films and interactive media are a resource for building public understating of issues and empathy among viewers who otherwise might not relate to situations of critical social and environmental importance. Documentaries offer a convening point for communities to come together with each other, and with issue leaders, to build solutions. Our belief in media as a powerful tool for change has been reinforced by the outcomes of our efforts over the years – from the introduction of a new line of carpeting as a result of industry leaders viewing Blue Vinyl, to the significant rise in public opposition to fracking in North Carolina and Texas where we have worked extensively with the films Gasland 2 and Split Estate. Just a few months ago a new grassroots organization was formed by participants who came to a Coal Ash Stories event in an area threated by waste storage pollution. Our partner organizations credit our work for building their base of support, deepening their connections with allies, and driving them towards their goals.
5. WHAT CONNECTIONS DO YOU HOPE TO MAKE AT THE MEDIA THAT MATTERS CONFERENCE? WHAT CAN THE AUDIENCE EXPECT TO LEARN FROM YOU?
I’m excited to connect with other people who are passionate about using documentaries for change. I’m very interested to explore how Working Films fits in to current conversations about impact assessment, which often center on the use of one media project. We use many documentaries within multi-year, issue-driven initiatives, and we develop our tracking processes and evaluation tools based on specific goals and desired outcomes that vary depending on where we are working and with whom we are partnering.
The audience can expect to learn more about Working Films’ approach, which is deeply rooted in collaboration and a belief that lasting change happens from the ground up.
6. ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO ADD?
You can find out more about Working Films on our website: www.workingfilms.org, and social media www.facebook.com/workingfilms and on twitter @workingfilms.
United for a Fair Economy and Working Films are looking for short and feature length films that delve into the story of the rising income inequality, as told through the lens of Race. Media should touch on or complement the topics that United for a Fair Economy has focused on over the last 10 years, including financial exclusion, housing, healthcare, tax policy, lack of employment, voting rights, government austerity/cuts, foreclosure, disinvestment and others. We want to pique the interest of audiences, spur discussion, and generate action to address these critical issues.
We will use selected media within a Southeastern screening tour, where the pattern of the racial wealth divide is rooted in history and injustice, that still plays out today. Events will offer opportunities for storytelling, both through films screened as well as community dialogue the media catalyzes. We will capture and compile these stories on a platform that is linked to the topic areas of each report.
To submit media, contact Michael Young at firstname.lastname@example.org
About United for a Fair Economy
United for a Fair Economy is a national nonprofit focused on challenging the concentration of wealth and power that corrupts democracy, deepens the racial divide and tears communities apart. We support social movements working for an equitable, resilient, and sustainable, economy.
When a Duke Energy coal ash pond spilled millions of gallons of toxic sludge into the Dan River last year, Working films responded with Coal Ash Stories. This 30 minute short film compilation explains the toxic impact of coal ash and showcases community-driven solutions. Our goal in developing the series was to enhance the efforts of organizations working to protect residents from coal ash pollution and to hold Duke Energy accountable. In the last six months, we have co-hosted 15 community screenings in partnership with 32 locally based groups across the state, increasing their reach and turning audience members into active participants on the issue.
Our neighbors in Tennessee experienced an even larger spill in 2008 when a coal ash dam failed, sending 1.1 billion gallons into the town of Kingston. The spill destroyed homes, and decimated the health of the local environment and surrounding community. Now Tennessee Valley Authority wants to store it’s coal ash in the same area, which has unsuitable topography for a landfill, and will likely result in further ground water pollution. Concerned residents and environmental groups will not let this happen without a fight. Together, we will use Coal Ash Stories togenerate public comments in response to TVA’s landfill permit request.
We have partnered with Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) and the Kingston Community Advisory Group to host the first screening of Coal Ash Stories in Kingston next Thursday, February 5th.
Aftermath of the 2008 TVA spill in Kingston.
Additional events will take place around the state this spring to build public pressure and ensure regulatory agencies do their job. According to SOCM member David Wasilko, “The messages in Coal Ash Stories resonate throughout Tennessee’s coal mining communities, particularly in Kingston where so many have been affected by the disastrous TVA spill of 2008. SOCM members in Roane County are proud to work alongside their neighbors, friends, and coworkers to ensure that a coal ash spill never happens again.”
If you’re in Kingston next Thursday, stop by the Banquet Room of the Kingston Community Center at 201 Patton Ferry Rd. The event will start at 6pm and is free and open to the public. Stay tuned to our blog and Facebook page, where we will list upcoming dates of additional screenings happening in Tennessee this spring.
Working Films, Bennett College, UNC-Chapel Hill and Warren Wilson College are bringing filmmaker Leah Mahan on a tour across North Carolina this February. Screenings of her documentary Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek will connect faculty, students, and local residents to issues of environmental justice in the state.
February 10, 2015, 8pm Warren Wilson College Holden Auditorium, Holden Arts Center, Asheville, NC 28815
Public parking available on campus. Please RSVP to ensure your seat: email@example.com, or 828-771-3062.
February 11, 2015 at 6 pm Bennett College Global Learning Center Auditorium, 521 Gorrell St., Greensboro, NC 27401
Free public parking on campus.
February 12, 2015 at 6pm UNC-Chapel Hill 1301 McGavran-Greenberg Hall, School of Public Health, Chapel Hill, NC 27759
Public parking available at Dogwood deck, Manning Drive across from UNC Hospital.
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek follows the painful but inspiring story of Derrick Evans and the African American community of Turkey Creek on the gulf coast of Mississippi as they battle developers and politicians in an effort to save their community’s land, history, and culture. Encapsulating pertinent issues of environmental racism, land loss among African American communities, urbanization, and lack of political recognition, the story of Turkey Creek parallels and reflects the story of many communities in North Carolina who have organized for environmental justice and land security.
The tour will kick off at Warren Wilson College where the event is hosted by The Office of the President and The Wilson Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity Office. The goal is to encourage dialogue and inspired action against intersecting oppressions – including race, class, and environmental injustice in western North Carolina. Following the film will be a discussion with filmmaker Leah Mahan and the audience of students, faculty and community members.
Come Hell or High Water will launch Bennett College’s Black History Month Film Series. The Africana Women’s Studies’ Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson will facilitate an interactive post-screening discussion. Our co-hosts include the Division of Humanities and Africana Women’s Studies departments, and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters Foundation. Members of the grassroots environmental justice community in the Triad will offer their reflections on the documentary and update the audience regarding local and statewide efforts.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, event is part of broader initiative to strengthen an education-science-activism paradigm at the university, and to envision an urban planning approach that integrates science, community, and environmental justice. Local, long-time environmental justice organizers Omega Wilson of West End Revitalization Association and David Caldwell of the Roger Eubanks Neighborhood Association, will join with Assistant Professor Danielle Spurlock (UNC-CH City and Regional Planning) and the filmmaker to in a discussion moderated by Danielle Purifoy (Duke Environmental Policy). The screening is hosted by The Institute for the Environment at UNC, the UNC Department of Communication Studies, the UNC Department of Geography, the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and Working Films.
We’re hard at work bringing Coal Ash Stories to even more areas in North Carolina, and two recent screenings highlight the importance of bringing these film to communities that face the potential hazards of coal ash pollution.
Events in Lumberton (Robeson County) and Pittsboro (Chatham County) were organized by local organizations who want to assure that their sites – and all 14 coal ash storage locations across the state – are properly cleaned up.
On the banks of the Lumber River and home to the Lumbee Tribe, Lumberton has a long history of environmental organizing. It is also home to Duke Energy’s W.H. Weatherspoon Power Station and its unlined coal ash pits. Given these dangers, Winyah Rivers Foundation and Center for Community Action in Lumberton partnered with NC WARN to host a screening October 23rd at the Robeson County Public Library.
Christine Ellis of Winyah Rivers Foundation shows the coal ash pits across the state.
Nick Wood of NC WARN shows the location of the coal ash pits in Lumberton.
During the Q&A, facilitated by the Christine Ellis of Winyah Rivers Foundation and Nick Wood of NC WARN, community members expressed concern over the lack of attention given to Eastern NC and the need to educate local decision makers on this issue. They also considered how to use the Lumber River’s Wild and Scenic designation and regulations requiring protection of Native American cultural heritage to leverage needed protection for their river, land, and communities. The Fayetteville Observer covered the the event, highlighting community member’s concerns. The screening served as the kick off to a series of meetings to demand the clean up of the Weatherspoon Power Station’s coal ash impoundments.
The Cape Fear Power Station is situated at the juncture of Chatham and Lee counties. Local groups are concerned about the effects of the coal ash impoundment there and joined together with Cape Fear Riverkeeper to host Coal Ash Stories.
This March, Duke Energy was caught illegally pumping coal ash wastewater from the Chatham County plant into a tributary of the Cape Fear River. Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette whose territory covers the entire Cape Fear River Basin, was invited to speak not only about the potential threat posed by the Cape Fear impoundment but also his continued work advocating for the clean-up and regulation of the Sutton Steam Plant facility in Wilmington.
Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch and Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly
The screening was held at the Chatham Community Library with a Q&A led by Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly, Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch, and Abundance NC. Elaine and Kemp encouraged the audience to voice their concerns to decision makers and to demand that all the coal ash impoundments in North Carolina be cleaned up. The audience was engaged, at times outraged, but also inspired by the work and commitment of their riverkeepers.
More screenings of Coal Ash Stories are happening across NC in the next couple of months! Please keep your eyes out for events in Asheville, Boone, Franklin, Goldsboro, New Bern and Sylva.
Here are the details on events happening in the next few weeks!
A few weeks ago, a group of activists and scholars of environmental justice met at The Franklinton Center at Bricks for the 17th annual North Carolina Environmental Justice Summit. The former slave plantation and early African American school in Whitakers, NC that has been repurposed as a training, retreat, and educational center for social justice, made for a profound setting for the opening night screening of Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek by Leah Mahan. Fifty participants gathered to watch and discuss the painful but inspiring story of Derrick Evans and the community of Turkey Creek on the gulf coast of Mississippi, which battled powerful developers and myopic politicians in an effort to save their community’s land, history, and culture.
Encapsulating pertinent issues of environmental racism, land loss among African American communities, urbanization, and lack of political recognition, the story of Turkey Creek parallels the story of many communities in North Carolina who have organized and come together in struggles for environmental justice. The goal for the screening was to help community members and advocates consider new ways to address environmental justice and land loss prevention.
Local and long standing environmental justice organizers Omega Wilson of West End Revitalization Association (WERA); David Caldwell with Roger Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) and Coalition to End Environmental Racism (CEER); and Omari Wilson with The Landloss Prevention Project and the EJ Network facilitated the audience discussion.
The film elicited cheers, applause, outrage, and even some laughter was heard when Derrick Evans teases the young person working in the Boston community garden for pulling the collard greens rather than the weeds. During the question and answer session, the audience talked about issues like urbanization and the encroachment of development into their rural lands. David Caldwell reflected that Turkey Creek could be replaced with his community of Roger’s Road scene-by-scene. Others empathized with the destruction and loss of family land. Many audience members identified with the invisibility of their communities in the eyes of local politicians who “didn’t even know their community was there.” One person asked if we had “ever heard of Shiloh?” a town near Cary that “used to be there.” She pointed out that Turkey Creek could have easily disappeared like Shiloh had it not been for the commitment and ingenuity of Evans’ fight.
Meanwhile, another environmental justice screening of Come Hell or High Water took place at the 25th annual Gullah/Geechee Seafood Festival at the Hunting Island Nature Center in South Carolina on October 25. This event is part of the larger Gullah/Geechee Heritage/Awareness Month celebrating the living traditions of the Gullah/Geechee nation, descendents of blended African ethnic and Indigenous groups that have lived on the barrier islands and coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida since chattel enslavement. The Gullah/Geechee work to preserve cultural heritage and food security, fight displacement due to development and destruction of coastal lands, and advocate for self-determination through various projects like the Sea Island Coalition and the Fishing Association.
Head of state and official spokesperson of the Gullah/Geechee, Queen Quet reported that the screening had standing room only and that, “People loved it and were deeply curious about what has happened to Turkey Creek since the making of the film.” Many expressed outrage at the ubiquity of displacement, landloss, development, and environmental injustice along the southern coasts from North Carolina to Mississippi and Louisiana. Queen Quet plans to continue using the film to engage more members of her community on how to protect their communities and lands.
Given its accessibility, locality, humanity, and the ways in which it cuts to the core issues of environmental injustice and gives communities a chance to respond, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek is becoming an important tool in the fights against environmental racism and landloss in the South. Future screenings are in the works including one with a coalition of professors at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill who are planning a screening and discussion with the filmmaker and local Environmental Justice activists in January.
Working Films is partnering with the Cucalorus Film Festival to put together an art installation entitled, Smoke and Water. We need people like you to participate in creating the installation.
Could you volunteer a few hours of your time to help the artist paint? No artistic ability required, just a willingness to get your hands dirty with some bright paint.
We need your help this Thursday November 6th through Tuesday November 11th. You can sign up for a block of time. See the specifics on time and location below and email Andy Myers to RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss this opportunity to be part of this important community art project. For your participation you’ll be invited to a closed door reception celebrating art and activism during the Cucalorus Film Festival!
Art Installation Volunteering Details:
Where: SEACC Community Action Center, 317 Castle St.
When: November 7th – afternoon November 8th – 11th (Sign up in 4 hour blocks: 9am-1pm, 1pm-5pm, & 5pm-9pm) November 12th – 9am to noon.
What: Stand up against Coal Ash Pollution! Help create a community mural!
Who: Wilmington residents, artists and, art students
Additional Info: Wear clothes you don’t mind getting paint dripped on.
If you have any brushes you use for acrylic paint, feel free to bring them
If you have paint cups or containers, that would be great!
Samples of previous works by the artist can be found at this link; description of wall painting and sketches below.
Further Details about the Project
New York-based, Wilmington-born artist Greg Lindquist is preparing a wall painting installation at the Southeastern Alliance for Community Change on coal ash that will include statements from key leaders and impacted community members. This installation is part of a community engagement effort by Working Films, a locally based non-profit and non-partisan organization that builds partnerships between nonfiction media-makers, nonprofit organizations, and educators to advance social and environmental change. The installation and events will be in conjunction with the Cucalorus Film Festival where the film Coal Ash Chronicles will participate in the Work-in-Progress program. Lindquist will create his painting installation in collaboration with local residents, artists and art students in the community.
Description of Wall Painting: Smoke and Water
By Greg Lindquist
Art requires a social context for its meaning. My painting installations bring the supposed neutrality of the traditional exhibition space into question, while uniting the empathic quality of painting with the voices and experiences of our community. Many people’s hands and touches animate not only the color, form and line in the painting installation, but also the text. These texts give presence to the voices of those impacted by the coal ash pollution, as well as those responsible for its damage and regulation, creating an opportunity for a democratic presentation of voices and contemplation.
This wall painting will bring together a condition of reflection through its contemplative yet unsettling beauty, as well as a statement of social engagement about the coal ash pollution. The rectangular squares will contain text painted by hand and gathered from brief statements solicited from impacted community members, scientists, environmentalists, polluters, and policy makers. Also main partner organizations and local groups may contribute. It will contain a response to a statement similar to the following: We are asking for a no more than 50 word statement: Please reflect on your experience and perspectives with coal ash and the future of the environment and your community. What concerns you most? What do you wish for the future?
This November marks the 20th anniversary of the Cucalorus Film Festival, an internationally recognized event that has never shied away from connecting art to important social and environmental issues. Working Films is honored to partner with Cucalorus to engage key leaders and community members around the issue of coal ash pollution. Through our Coal Ash Stories initiative, we are supporting Cucalorus Work-in-Progress film Coal Ash Chronicles. We will be coordinating special viewings and hosting a related art installation Smoke and Water. Join us at the following art and film events this November 6th – 15th.
Below is a list of all public Coal Ash Events at this year’s Cucalorus Film Festival:
Smoke and Water Art installation gallery hours SEACC Action Center
317 Castle Street, Wilmington, NC 28401
FREE and open to public
Artist Greg Lindquist, Working Films and other key leaders will be in attendance.
Thursday, 11/13 12pm – 5pm
Friday, 11/14, 12pm – 5pm
Friday, 11/14, 5pm – 7pm
Saturday, 11/15 11am – 1pm
Conversation with Greg at 11:30.
Coal Ash Chronicles Public film screening times
Thursday, 11/6, 7pm – 8:30pm
NC Coastal Federation
309 W. Salisbury St., Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
Free to members, $10 non-members
Co-hosted by Cucalorus Film Festival and Working Films.
Friday, 11/14, 7:30 pm – 9pm
Cucalorus Film Festival
Work-in-Progress screening and feedback session
Jengo’s Playhouse, 815 Princess Street, Wilmington, NC 28401
$10, purchase ticket Program with filmmakers Rhiannon Fionn and Nell Carden Gray, with participation of Alternate Roots, and Working Films.
About the projects:
Coal Ash Chronicles is a film about trash in America. Not the trash we’re used to disappearing from the curb, but trash that’s created by coal plants. Coal ash is what remains after coal is burned to generate electricity. Only, unlike the ash left in your fireplace after wood is burned, coal ash is replete with heavy metals and radioactive elements. It’s everywhere; it could be part of the building you’re reading this in right now, and it could be soaking, draining or leaking into your town’s drinking water.
The film’s story is told by Rhiannon Fionn, an independent investigative journalist who’s reported on coal ash concerns in Charlotte, N.C., since 2009. In 2012, she took off for Alaska, and all parts in between, during a nearly two-and-a-half year mission to collect coal ash stories from multiple perspectives in an effort to discover if there were any common threads or real solutions … she found both.
Smoke and Water is a project of New York-based, Wilmington-born artist Greg Lindquist. Greg will create an installation on the walls of the Southeastern Alliance for Community Change Action Center. The project will explore coal ash pollution and include statements from key leaders and impacted community members. Lindquist will create his installation in collaboration with local artists and art students in the community, as well as organizational partners of Working Films’ Coal Ash Stories project.
Coal Ash Stories continues to travel to impacted and concerned communities throughout the state.
Coal Ash Stories is a compilation of four short films that illustrate the public health concerns, policy issues, and ways communities are responding to a toxic pollution. Working Films curated the collection in response to a massive coal ash spill in the Dan River in North Carolina last February. In June, we partnered with Appalachian Voices, Earthjustice, the North Carolina Conservation Network, NC WARN, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and nineteen local organizations to bring the series of shorts across North Carolina to catalyze conversation and action. The 30-minutes of media was paired with issue experts leading the charge for strong protections. We are now continuing the tour to directly impacted and concerned communities throughout the state.
Below are the upcoming events that are FREE and open to the public. Please join us if you are in one of these areas.
Stokes County is one of fourteen sites in North Carolina, and one of hundreds across the country, where toxic coal ash is being stored. What is the impact on the communities that live next to these facilities? Watch this video to find out.
Together the four films make up Coal Ash Stories. The series explores the public health concerns, policy issues, and ways communities are responding to the toxic threat of coal ash. Request your FREE Coal Ash Stories DVD today, and show it in your home or community.
The timing is critical:
December 19th is the EPA’s court-ordered deadline to finalize the first-ever federal safeguards for coal ash. North Carolina policymakers’ and regulators’ weak response to the Dan River spill is evidence that strong federal regulations are needed to protect our air and water. This toxic waste must be cleaned up, and power companies have to take steps to ensure that their waste pits are safe.