News | November 7, 2016

Southern Exposure: What a Waste

As a 2016 fellow, filmmaker Cai Thomas created “What a Waste” for the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, a film that looks at the challenges facing Alabama’s wastewater treatment facilities. Many of these facilities lack funding to repair and maintain their aging infrastructure, which often leads to untreated wastewater being dumped in places where families swim, paddle, and fish.

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 Thomas’s reflections on her time in Alabama with the Fellowship.

As a filmmaker, what particular aspects of the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship were you drawn to?

I was drawn to Southern Exposure for the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other young emerging filmmakers and strengthen my own personal skills as a filmmaker. Every interaction I had with program director Michele Forman felt like a master class—she brings such a variety and wealth of knowledge about the documentary world and has no qualms about sharing her tips.

What did you know about Alabama before you arrived?

I hadn’t spent any time in Alabama since I was a child so it was great to experience Birmingham and immerse ourselves in the environmental community.

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

I was very grateful for the detailed feedback Michele gave us all and how she encourages us to think about story structure in new ways. It was so rewarding for me to learn about an industry that I hadn’t spent that much time thinking about.

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

My favorite memory would definitely have to be going down with the Coosa Riverkeeper team to the peach store and getting the best peach cobbler I’ve ever had in my life after filming some sample recordings. 

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.