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.
Screenings will be free and open to the public and will be shown in: Nashville (Citizen Koch), Memphis (The Hand That Feeds), Knoxville (American Teacher), Chattanooga (Inequality for All), Jackson (Freedom Summer), and Johnson City (Blood on the Mountain). The participatory film tour will educate communities on the impacts of money in politics, an unfair tax system that burdens the poor, and on cuts to the state budget that are eliminating social safety nets and defunding public education. These issues will be spotlighted in the films and discussed in interactive post-screening programs designed to offer a forum for community members to share their perspectives, identify common ground, discuss potential solutions to the problems at hand, and become involved with the organizations leading the charge for change.
Below is a list of screenings and clips of the films that will featured, organized by city.
Johnson City: Blood on the Mountain: Tuesday October 14th 2014, 7pm.
Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 136 Bob Jobe Rd, Gray, TN 37615
Blood on the Mountain focuses on the environmental and economic injustice and corporate control in West Virginia and its rippling effect on all American workers. This film tells the story of a hard-working people who have historically had limited choices and have never benefited fairly from the rich natural resources of their land. This is a works in progress screening.
Memphis: The Hand That Feeds: Wednesday October 15th 2014, 6pm.
The University of Memphis, 3720 Alumni Ave, Memphis, TN 38152
Shy sandwich-maker Mahoma and his undocumented immigrant coworkers set out to end abusive conditions at a New York restaurant chain. This epic power struggle turns a single city block into a battlefield in America’s new wage wars.
Nashville: Citizen Koch: Thursday October 16th 2014, 7pm.
United Auto Workers Headquarters, 6207 Centennial Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209
Set against the rise of the Tea Party in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, a citizen uprising to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker collides with the Tea Party-aligned “Americans for Prosperity,” a group founded and lavishly financed by two of the world’s richest men —David and Charles Koch. As Republican working class voters find themselves in the crosshairs of their own party and its billionaire backers, they are forced to choose sides.
Jackson: Freedom Summer: Thursday October 16th 2014, 6pm.
Tennessee NAACP Headquarters: 118 N Church St, Jackson, TN 38301
A look back at the summer of 1964, when more than 700 student activists took segregated Mississippi by storm, registering voters, creating freedom schools and establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Chattanooga: Inequality for All: Friday October 17th 2014, 7pm.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University Center Auditorium, 642 E 5th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
Inequality for All is an intimate portrait of a man whose lifelong goal has been “protecting those who are unable to protect themselves.” Reich suggests that the massive consolidation of wealth by a precious few threatens the viability of the American workforce and the foundation of democracy itself.
Knoxville: American Teacher: Monday October 20th 2014, 5:30pm.
Weaving interviews of policy experts and startling facts with the lives and careers of four teachers, American Teacher tells the collective story by and about those closest to the issues in our educational system — the 3.2 million teachers who spend every day in classrooms across our country.
Last month, we gathered with a cross section of organizations from across Tennessee to make plans for using documentaries to advance social, economic and environmental justice and sustainability in the state. A day long summit held at the United Steel Workers Union Hall in Nashville, was aimed at better connecting progressive groups in Tennessee to each other, and at increasing their skills and capacity to use media, popular education, and creative actions to reach their goals.
The summit included a training component on best practices for leveraging documentary film and creative action to advance grassroots organizing. A case study of MORAL MOVIES and discussion of how individual film and interactive projects like Inequality for All, Freedom Summer, and Hollow could be used in the state helped lead us into planning for the fall and next year.
Since the summit we’ve been solidifying parterships with participants, including the Tennessee NAACP, Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, the Tennessee Education Association, Common Cause, and the Coalition for the Organizational Protection of People and Equal Rights.We now have an initial statewide series in the works that will engage communities on economic issues impacting Tennessee, in particular the threat of a permanent ban on income tax in the state’s constitution.
We’ll continue to work with leaders over the next 1 – 2 years to position documentaries within their work and throughout the state to raise awareness, strengthen connections, and advance progress towards a Tennessee that serves all!
This June, Working Films partnered with Appalachian Voices, Earthjustice, the North Carolina Conservation Network, NC WARN, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and nineteen local organizations to bring four short films, conversation, and action on coal ash across North Carolina. You can see our recap in photos and tweets.
In February 2014, a storm water pipe below a massive Duke Energy coal ash impoundment failed, spilling 39,000 tons of coal ash into North Carolina’s Dan River. With the Dan River coal ash spill fresh on the minds of North Carolinians, and as controversy grew around Duke Energy’s ties to the NC Governor and state regulators, clean water had become a top concern of residents across the state. In quick response, Working Films initiated partnerships with leading state and national organizations to put together a program that could answer questions about coal ash in NC. We worked through spring to co-develop Coal Ash Stories, identifying media, developing shared goals and resources, and coordinating the local efforts.
Four short films were used in eight cities around the state to educate citizens and draw public and political attention to the toxic impact of the disaster. The films include An Ill Wind, At What Cost?, Coal Ash Chronicles (work-in-progress), Downwind and Downstream.
Events took place in Asheville, Belews Creek, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. In each location, one or more local groups co-hosted the event, tailoring the program and goals to the local communities, especially where coal ash ponds are threatening the local drinking water supply.
Local host organizations included 350 Triangle, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Charlotte Environmental Action, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Water for NC, Durham People’s Alliance, Frack Free NC Alliance, Fund for Democratic Communities, Greenpeace NC, League of Conservation Voters NC, Mountain People’s Assembly, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, New Hanover County NAACP, Sierra Club Cape Fear Group, Sierra Club Capital Group, Sierra Club Foothills Group, Sierra Club Headwaters Group and Triangle Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Below are some highlights.
Appalachian Voices hosted the event in Belews Creek, a rural community near Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station. The goal of the event was to help community members realize that they’re a part of a larger fight and are not alone in the struggle. Organizer Sarah Kellogg stated, “There was a woman who is the daughter of one of our most outspoken community members who has never wanted to be involved, but after the movie showing she was ready to speak out.”
The Durham event was co-hosted by Durham People’s Alliance, NC WARN, and Sierra Club Headwaters Group. County Commissioner Frances Blalock attended as a viewer, and let the organizers know that just the night before, the Person County commissioners voted 5-0 to pass a moratorium on coal ash that includes both the transport and disposal of the material. The organizers welcomed her to give the update to the audience and say a few words before the screening.
In Raleigh, the Q&A included Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices; John Wagner, Frack Free NC and Haw River Assembly; State Representative Pricey Harrison from Greensboro; and was facilitated by main organizer Karen Bearden, 350 Triangle. Karen met folks that heard about the program on The State of Things radio show the day before and had missed the earlier program in Durham, so they drove to Raleigh to attend. State Representative Pricey Harrison, who appears in Downwind and Downstream, gave context to the legislative situation and how she has been trying to get a coal ash bill passed since 2008. She emphasized how corporations’ money and influence makes it hard for legislators to get strong bills passed and urged the audience to make their voices heard.
Each event was strong and well attended, with each location meeting, and three locations exceeding, the hosts’ expectations for turn out. In just a week and a half, the events reached 400 people. According to our audience surveys, 98% of attendees are now willing to speak out on coal ash. 90% better understand the issues and have an increased interest in being involved. There are some indications that we were able to reach beyond the choir, with ¾ of audiences not already affiliated with a group or organization, as indicated on sign in sheets. Also, a high number of zip codes outside the immediate vicinity of screening locations on sign in sheets indicated that audience members were willing to travel to learn more and participate.
Our state and local partners loved the event format– with 30 minutes of media, there was ample time for an interactive discussion and a call to action. All of our local hosts reported being very pleased with the help from Working Films and felt very well supported.
The Coal Ash Stories events were co-hosted by several groups whom we’ve partnered with on Moral Movies, including NAACP branches as well as Durham People’s Alliance and the Fund for Democratic Communities. This gives some indication that we are fostering cross-issue support from organizations that have not traditionally worked on coal ash or related environmental issues. This will be an emphasis of our efforts going forward, building on the many state and local partnerships we’ve established through our Moral Movies series.
Coal Ash Stories received broad press coverage, including the radio show WUNC’s The State of Things. The show spent two-thirds of their program on coal ash, talking with Filmmaker Rhiannon Fionn of Coal Ash Chronicles as well as WUNC’s capital reporter Jorge Valencia about the details of the event, controversy around the regulatory response and the latest on the coal ash legislation. The screenings happened to coincide with the short legislative session, further raising the attention of the issues. Other press articles included Asheville’s Mountain Xpress, Durham’s Herald Sun, and Wrightsville Beach’s Lumina News.
We are eager to build on the momentum of the initial tour in NC, as are our partners, who see screening events as a unique opportunity through which they can reach beyond their typical constituencies, raise awareness of the impacts of the spill and spur people to action. Coal ash will continue to be a major threat to public health and clean water in the state. As Amy Adams explained in an op-ed, “If the General Assembly really wanted to eliminate the threat posed by Duke Energy’s coal-ash storage ponds, it would have ordered an assessment of all 33 of the ponds and come up with specific instructions for the cleanup. Instead, lawmakers made cleanup mandatory for only four of them (all curiously close to the homes of powerful legislators) and left the details for the other 29 to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Duke Energy – whose relationship over the years has been altogether too cordial.” In response to the still pending, yet insufficient coal ash bill, the Southern Environmental Law Center is continuing to take action for some of the communities under the Clean Water Act, though more is needed. We are now working with our partner groups to develop plans to continue the work with Coal Ash Stories to support the communities impacted by the spill and engage citizens across the state in addressing this important issue. Through the remainder of the year we will build on and extend the use of the films across North Carolina, as well as in new states, to raise awareness of coal ash threats and impacts and inspire greater engagement around these issues.
The North Carolina Moral Movies Film Series draws to a close this month with screenings of the acclaimed documentary, Inequality for All. The film features Robert Reich – professor, best-selling author, and Clinton cabinet member – as he demonstrates how the widening income gap has a devastating impact on the American economy. As Alexandra Sirota, Director of the NC Budget and Tax Center explains, “North Carolina, like the nation, is seeing increased barriers for too many to get ahead. Inequality for All provides the important context for this experience and makes it clear that policy choices have built these barriers rather than a smoother path to a strong middle class.”
Screenings in nine cities across the state will begin on July 22nd. These interactive events will spotlight the threat of income inequality on the viability of the workforce in North Carolina and will involve audiences in dialogue and action to address economic inequality.
Join us for Inequality for All this month or tell your friends in North Carolina!
Winston Salem: Tuesday July 22nd, 6pm
Green Street United Methodist Church, 639 S Green St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Local hosts: Scholars for NC’s Future, Forsyth County Association of Educators, The Ministers Conference of Winston Salem.
Fayetteville: Tuesday July 22nd, 6pm
The Main Library, 300 Maiden Lane, Fayetteville, NC, 28301.
Local hosts: Fayetteville NAACP, FAyetteville N.O.W, Cumberland County Progressives, Fayetteville A. Philip Randolph Institute, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fayetteville, Fayetteville-Cumberland Black Leadership Caucus, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208.