Southern Exposure: Alabama the Beautiful
As a 2016 fellow, filmmaker Mary D. Recio created “Alabama the Beautiful” for the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, which tells the story of those working to preserve Alabama’s state parks in the face of state agency deficits and budget cuts, and how citizens can advocate for their protection.
Each summer, Southern Exposure brings emerging filmmakers to Birmingham to learn about Alabama’s pressing environmental issues and meet the individuals and organizations working to protect one of the most ecologically and geologically diverse states in the U.S.
Below are some of Recio’s reflections on her time in Alabama with the Fellowship.
As a filmmaker, what particular aspects about the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship were you drawn to?
I fell in love with the state of Alabama and filmmaking at the same time. As a film major at the University of Alabama, my focus was on community documentaries. I traveled across the state documenting the people and the landscapes. Before I knew it, my love for filmmaking and the south were intertwined. The Southern Exposure Film Fellowship appealed to me because it offered me the opportunity to use my skills to incite change and impact the state.
What factors did you consider in choosing your topic?
I was a student when the state parks were defunded and the fear of 15 state park closures loomed over Alabama. I remember my family, friends, and myself being outraged at the mistreatment of our most precious protected lands. It was also a selfish decision—creating a documentary about our state parks meant that I would have the opportunity to see the most beautiful places in Alabama.
What was most challenging to capture about your topic?
Trying to communicate the 2015 budget cuts alongside Amendment 2 was the most challenging. There were a lot of interviews I had to cut through to create the most concise and easy to understand explanations.
What did you find to be the most rewarding and most frustrating part about the filmmaking process?
The most frustrating part was getting to see all of the state's beauty while knowing that these lands do not have the proper protection. The most rewarding part was getting to film and advocate for these places in my last weeks as a resident of Alabama.
What image stands out to you from your time in Alabama?
On one of my shoots, I woke up at 4 a.m. to go watch the sunrise at Mount Cheaha State Park. This was my first time visiting this region of the state and I was blown away. Every time I think of Alabama I think about that place (which is why it is the opening shot of my film).
If you could tell everyone one thing about what you learned this summer, what would it be?
Making a film in six weeks is tiring, frustrating, but so very rewarding. When you think it can't be done, you somehow pull it together— remember to always trust the process.
What advice would you give to a future fellow?
I would tell a future fellow to immerse themselves in the state during their stay. See as much of it as you can!
Over the course of six weeks this summer, six talented filmmakers traveled all over Alabama to meet with community members, elected officials, scientists, business owners, riverkeepers, and other conservation groups, resulting in six films about Alabama’s environment and the triumphs and struggles to preserve its abundance of natural wonders and scenic beauty. We will be sharing the six films on SELC’s newsfeed over the next few weeks.