I’m a sucker for documentaries. I’d be lying if said I only watched the high-quality variety, but that’s a matter of opinion, right?
Documentaries offer us artistic, thoughtful renderings of reality. They focus our gaze on specific issues. And, if done well, they propel a proposition without being didactic. No one, after all, likes preachy! Some make us think about the world outside, beyond our gaze. Some depict our reality more compellingly than we can articulate it. Good documentaries are thoughtful; the best make us think.
Southern Exposure, a film fellowship sponsored by The Southern Environmental Law Center, recently premiered its 2016 roster of films at The Altamont School. Our students were the first audience for three of the films, and the community was invited for the world premiere the following evening. It’s a great privilege for Altamont to host the screenings, but the focus should really be on the films, the filmmakers, and the exposure. Each year, a handful of filmmakers are invited to Alabama to make a short documentary that draws attention to some environmental issue affecting the state. Almost inevitably, they fall in love with our state—our quirks, our people, and our beauty. During their immersion, they become invested in our issues and passionate advocates for our best interests. It was remarkable to listen to the filmmakers on the panel after the screenings, folks from all walks of life and all corners of our country. Their anecdotes spoke to the kind reception our state gave them, and their passion to the fact that our causes became theirs. I guess any documentary marries individuals with issues in personal ways. But Southern Exposure uproots its fellows, moves them to Alabama, and leaves them to be seduced! Any stranger who’s spent time in Alabama knows that you don’t just visit; you become part of the conversation. We get to know you. You’re agenda gets pushed back a bit. We’ll discuss it later, in due time.
The result? A bunch of films that could have been made by native Alabamians defending their own backyards. This year’s line-up included 3 films on water (totally appropriate for the “River State”), one on recycling, one on the plight of the state parks, and one on energy efficient low-income homes. No synopses or spoilers here. See them for yourself.
This series fits in beautifully with our Global Initiative theme of Resources and Climate Change. A primary charge of our Initiative is to expose our community to global realities (even if they manifest on a local scale); this is exactly what these films do. They tell us that there is an untapped industry in recycling. Economic incentives transcend party lines. They tell us that our states greatest resource, water, is in peril due to human negligence. In a state of outdoors-men and women, this too has transcendent resonance. They show us how energy efficiency is not solely a luxury of the affluent. And they show us that the natural world—in addition to its many roles—is the canary that gauges the health of and wisdom of our choices. We just need to pay attention.
For most of us, if we are interested, these issues are pressing enough that they consume our attention and energy. Our activism genes have limited energy. It’s hard to worry about a polluted river in India if have one in our own backyard. But if we can step back and extract the central issues, we are reminded that our challenges, aside from geographical differences, are the same as those that afflict communities around the globe. And if we allow that to resonate for a while, we realize that problem solving can be collaborative—regional and global. We can borrow from and inspire each other. We don’t have to struggle alone.
Niko Tsivourakis, Global Initiatives Director
This blog is the collective voice of every person involved in the Global Initiative. Just as the globe hosts billions of disparate voices, we hope this space will embody and embrace the same diversity.