News | November 1, 2014

“Southern Exposure” films highlight Alabama’s riches, threats

Alabama has a stunning array of natural resources: Southern Appalachian forests, world-class rivers, ancient cypress swamps, white sandy beaches—varied habitats that harbor globally significant biodiversity, offer myriad recreational opportunities, support jobs, and provide economic benefits.

The Southern Exposure film fellowship program brings college and graduate-level filmmakers from across the country to Alabama so they can come to appreciate what this state has to offer and also investigate problems and threats. The result is a series of short films that capture fresh, authentic stories about the state’s environment and the people who depend on it.

The six 2014 Southern Exposure films were screened in Birmingham, Mobile, Fairhope, Fort Payne, Tuscaloosa, and Hunstville. They, along with the films from 2013, are now available for online viewing.

Alabama is one of the most water-rich states in America—yet it has remained the only southeastern state without a comprehensive management plan. In Deep Water documents the beginnings of a water-planning process in Alabama. Filmmaker Zoe Gieringer talks to Gil Rogers, leader of SELC’s Clean Water Program, and takes us down the Coosa River to show how unregulated water withdrawal, unwise development, and agricultural demands put stress on this precious resource.

Hurricane Creek Waterkeeper John Wathen is the hero of Kristine Stolakis’ The Accidental Environmentalist, which tells a poignant tale of how contact with toxic chemicals transformed him into an environmental crusader. While dedicating himself to the vigilant care of Hurricane Creek, Wathen adds, “Every river I cross between here and California is mine too.”

SELC is engaged in the potential mining of tar sands in northwest Alabama, an issue Chris Jones explores in Paradise or Profit. MS Industries has purchased more than 2,000 acres in preparation for strip mining to extract oil from the state’s sandstone and limestone formations.

Johanna Obenda’s In Our Nature explores the magic that can happen when we spend time outdoors. The film documents how Camp McDowell, a nonprofit in Nauvoo, gives children knowledge they might not have otherwise. To the campers, it’s as much adventure as it is education: “You get to explore places, experience new places, and conquer fears.”

Our overburdened water treatment infrastructure—in Alabama and across the South—is also an important focus of SELC’s work. In Down the Drain, Carlos Estrada looks at troubling sewage problems in Uniontown, showing what’s at stake when people face critical environmental problems. “Instead of building a community,” says one resident, “it’s really tearing one down.”

Mindy Keely’s Invasive in Alabama explores the legacy of non-native species and their impacts on Alabama’s agriculture, environment, and economy.  Using feral hogs as an example, this film shows how invasive species tend to take over the habitats they occupy. The United States spends 120 billion dollars annually battling invasive species.