News | November 14, 2016

Southern Exposure: Good Housekeeping

As a 2016 fellow, filmmaker Liza Slutskaya created “Good Housekeeping” for the 2016 Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, a film that highlights the policy changes needed in Alabama to create broader access to energy efficiency programs, particularly for low-income residents who spend close to half of their income on energy costs.

While Alabama ranks near the bottom nationwide in energy efficiency policy, the emergence of residential programs offering easy, affordable energy efficiency additions is bringing down those costs, helping to alleviate financial burdens and reduce pollution.

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 Slutskaya’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 was very excited about the opportunity to be a part of a program that was actively using filmmaking to help spread awareness of some of the most important environmental concerns in the state. The opportunity to work on a project that could have a noticeable positive impact was a no-brainer.

What did you know about Alabama before you arrived?

I knew very little about Alabama before getting there. Mostly I knew that I would be very hot… I was not wrong on that one. But it did not take the full six weeks of my time with Southern Exposure for me to fall in love with the state, heat and all. There are so many diverse communities, amazing natural spaces, and kind people that I felt at home almost immediately.

What factors did you consider in choosing your topic?

In choosing a topic I was very drawn to the emphasis on supporting community growth through actions which also help our planet. I am very passionate about finding and telling compelling stories which have the power to break stereotypes and invite people to consider new perspectives. The topic I worked with allowed me to do just that.

What was most challenging to capture about your topic?

In the beginning I struggled a lot with thinking of ways to make my film as visually compelling as I knew the story would be. As Joyce Lanning with the Alabama Environmental Council said in the film, policy is not sexy and you cannot see it like a solar panel. And after policy, the next least sexy things are LED lightbulbs, insulation, and weatherproofed windows. I hope that with the final product I was able to show as well as tell why these things really are important and how they can really improve quality of life for a lot of people.

I also struggled in fitting together the puzzle pieces so to speak. In the subject of energy efficiency and the burden of utility costs specifically on lower-income communities, there are endless factors and aspects that are important to the whole story. However, fitting in environmental protection, policy, job security, health, technology, etc. is very difficult when making a 13 minute short. I hope that the parsed down version in the final product is compelling enough to inspire people to do more research into the subject and learn how they could contribute to an investment in energy efficiency options in their own communities.

What did you find to be the most rewarding part about the filmmaking process?

The most rewarding aspect of the process by far was the amount of amazing people that I met during my six weeks in Alabama. I had the privilege to meet and learn from talented filmmakers, hardworking environmental advocates and lawyers, and strong community leaders; all of whom inspired me to do the best work that I could do.

What image stands out to you from your time in Alabama?

Probably one of our very first days when we were taken out to explore the river with tour guide Gordon. All of us laughing, paddling down the river, flipping over rocks and picking out snails, trying out fishing nets. It was a such a happy day and so great to have that much fun playing in the water like kids and knowing that we were going to be working to help a spot like that stay just as wonderful for other people to enjoy after us was very special.

If you could tell everyone one thing about what you learned this summer, what would it be?

It’s difficult to pick just one–I feel that I learned so much. I am a better storyteller, I am a more aware citizen, and I know who Bear Bryant is. But one thing I learned is that no matter how new you are to the field you have chosen for yourself, and no matter how much you have to learn, there is always a way for you to use your skills to help make the world a little better.

What advice would you give to a future fellow?

I would encourage any future fellow to come into the program well researched on their topic and ready to hit the ground running and work very hard. But with that, I would say to definitely keep an open mind and to allow the story to come out on its own. Meet with as many people from as many different backgrounds as you can and use their knowledge, experience, and passion to inform your work. Most importantly I would say to enjoy every experience as fully as possible because it will end before you know it, and even though you will be relieved that the whirlwind of the production process is over, you will miss it.

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.