Saturday, September 20, 2014

Francine Strickwerda, Oil & Water - Cullowhee, NC

The latest update from filmmaker Francine Strickwerda, touring the Southern Circuit with her film Oil & Water:

Gratitude, Y'all

After eight long years making OIL & WATER, it feels unbelievably good to be taking the film on the road. I’m on the Southern Circuit film tour this week, taking eight flights to get to screenings and meet-ups in three Southern states in just six days.

I write this from a rocking chair at Ashville Regional Airport in North Carolina. This morning I ate grits for breakfast, and last night’s entertainment was the music of Blue Ridge Mountain bugs and a swim in my motel pool with one of the biggest insects I’ve seen since I was last in the Amazon. And I’m just so grateful to be here.

Gratitude is big this week as I travel solo on the Circuit.  I rarely spend much time alone anymore now that I have a three-year-old son whom I love to bits.  Thanks to my son’s amazing daddy (and OIL & WATER editor) Tracy Dethlefs, who’s doing double duty at home in Seattle, I get to be here. Every night before bed, Tracy holds storybooks up to his smart phone so I can read to our son via Skype. This calms my worrying mom brain so that I can continue to launch our new film “baby.”

The Southern Circuit is an amazing logistical feat, and I’m astonished by the territory covered and the people I’m getting to meet. This year the good people at South Arts are touring 18 films in communities all over the South.  And earlier this week on my first Circuit stop, Western Carolina University staff, students and faculty welcomed me to campus.  (Shouting out to Francis Ann Ortiz, Mike Corelli and Arledge Armenaki – ya’ll rock.)

I’ll admit, I was nervous. We’ve got many more festivals coming up, and a (PBS) World Channel broadcast next week (Sunday, Sept. 21, check your local listings!), but we’re really just getting started.  The Western Carolina students, these bright young people, put me right at ease and reminded me why I started making documentaries in the first place.

One young woman asked how to get people to really care about environmental problems like the ones in OIL & WATER. I’ve been mocked for being too earnest most of my life, and am pleased that I’m thrilled by this question.  My answer to her: pick something, even one thing that you care about, and find a way to push on it. And don’t give up.

Am I hopeful things can be turned around? I’m hopeful for Hugo Lucitante and the Cofan people whose struggle is explored in OIL & WATER. They number only about 1,000 people in Ecuador and another 1,000 in Columbia, and the dangers loom large. It’s not just the oil beneath their feet that the outside world wants to take; it’s all the natural resources on their land. But the Cofan should not be underestimated. They have a sophisticated understanding of the problems they are dealing with, and a powerful strategy for survival. Anything could happen, but I’m betting on the Cofan.

Another student asked what I liked most about making OIL & WATER. My favorite moments come from the time I spend with the camera behind me in what I call the “yummy cone of light” when someone opens up and tells me their story.  I am always humbled by the privilege it is to be entrusted with people’s stories, and following OIL & WATER’s stars Hugo Lucitante and David Poritz for eight years has been so satisfying. I’m grateful to them for the work they’re doing and for letting us shadow them for so long. And we know we were needy, noisy shadows sometimes, especially in the jungle. Thanks for hanging in there with us, guys. And to my co-director Laurel Spellman Smith, thank you for sharing this great adventure with me.

Lastly, I like being able to update audiences on new OIL & WATER news since we finished the film. This past summer there was another sizable oil spill near the Cofan village of Dureno. Now, for some good news. David’s company, Equitable Origin, has “fair trade” certified their first oil field in Columbia. The field will yield 250,000 barrels of EO certified oil a day, the equivalent of 25 percent of Columbia’s oil production. This is big news and I’m excited to see what Equitable Origin will do next.

Thanks again to the Southern Circuit and South Arts for giving filmmakers opportunities like these to reflect on their own journeys, and for making such an enriching experience possible. It’s a spectacular treat to be able to visit communities and have meaningful conversations about stuff that matters. And the grits, rocking chairs, and southern hospitality are pretty wonderful, too. I am grateful.