Southern Exposure: Birmingham to the Gulf
As a 2016 fellow, filmmaker Matthew Grcic created “Birmingham to the Gulf” for the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, a film that questions the impacts of dams on Alabama’s waterways, its wildlife and its people.
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 Grcic’s reflections on his time in Alabama with the Fellowship.
As a filmmaker, what particular aspects about the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship were you drawn to?
I am an advocate of the environment, and it is part of my life and career goals to create environmental documentaries, so this was a perfect opportunity to add to my portfolio and experience in this field.
What did you know about Alabama before you arrived?
I knew very little of Alabama. I expected a stereotypical Southern state, but I came in with an open mind. I was naive to say the least. It was so great to have my mind opened to what a wonderful place Birmingham and surrounding cities are, filled with wonderful, brilliant caring people, and so much history and culture.
What factors did you consider in choosing your topic?
I considered how much adventure and outdoor time I would have. I was expecting to be climbing and hiking often. It was also very important to me to pick something that I was passionate about. I am a strong supporter of our water as recreation and obviously as a source of life, for humans and nature alike, so I was drawn to those topics.
What was most challenging to capture about your topic?
I think the most challenging thing to capture in my story is the true impact of the dams. It is something that happens over time and is basically invisible to people who have not lived on the river for their entire lives and have been able to witness the decrease in biodiversity and life of the rivers. The effects are also global in the respect that it affects the entire river system and is not local to one specific part of the river, like some might assume.
What did you find to be the most rewarding, and most difficult parts about the filmmaking process?
The storytelling is always the most rewarding part of the process for me. This story, especially with all of the stakeholders and “conflicting” interests about the message, was difficult and interesting to weave. When I, with the guidance of the amazing Michele Forman, finally pulled the story together the way it was meant to be, it was such a gratifying and rewarding moment.
What image stands out to you from your time in Alabama?
The camaraderie was the most meaningful and unforgettable memory for me. We all helped each other through so much and we have made lasting friendships.
If you could tell everyone one thing about what you learned this summer, what would it be?
Alabama is the place to be if you are a scientist, nature lover, outdoor recreation fan, filmmaker, or are just looking for a beautiful wonderful place to live, with amazing people.
What two or three pieces of advice would you give to a future fellow?
Don't do interviews in the river, unless you're on a boat.
Talk to everyone you meet about your topic, whether or not they’re directly involved in your topic or film, because they likely have some knowledge and can provide some insight.
Don't leave home without a camera and a tripod.
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.