News | November 28, 2016

Southern Exposure: Waste Not, Want Not

As a 2016 fellow, filmmaker Scott Schimmel took a look behind the scenes at the scale and scope of Alabama’s large recycling industry for the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship.

Alabama is the dumping ground for other states’ garbage due to extremely low dumping fees, which continue to incentivize this antiquated approach to waste management. At the same time, the rise of recycling has proven to be a vital and growing business, creating jobs and raising revenue statewide. The film looks at the role citizens and businesses play in shifting industry to more sustainable waste management.  

Each summer, Southern Exposure brings emerging filmmakers like Schimmel 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 Schimmel’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 was really drawn to the location. The Southern Exposure Film Fellowship program is located in Birmingham, Alabama, a culturally rich city in a culturally rich state. I really sought out the story telling opportunities there.

What was most challenging to capture about your topic?

I chose my topic, recycling, because I saw it had a really strong visual appeal. But, I’m also an ardent recycler at home and felt that I have the passion to drive this topic into a very successful film.

The most challenging thing was scheduling. We were given a really tight deadline, we have 6 weeks to pre-produce, produce, direct, film, and edit a documentary. In that short amount of time, I had some interviews happen a week before the film was due. What I had to learn, and what this program really taught me, was how to run pre-production, production, and post simultaneously, and to constantly think about how the story evolves. And also to be open to the story changing as I go.

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

The most rewarding thing about the film making process at Southern Exposure was the people I got to meet and work with there. I learned this summer that, if you have the skills and you have a great team around you, you can tell an amazing story in very a short period of time.

What advice would you give to future Fellows?

The biggest piece of advice I would give to a future fellow is do as much research about your topic as you can before arriving in Alabama and don’t wait until Week 2 to start making the connections that you’re going to need to make the film that you want to make.

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.