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Southern Exposure Film Fellowship: Documenting Alabama’s environment

12 Sep 2016

written by Mailer-Daemon


Fairhope audiences will soon experience the coast’s first look at the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship 2016 films, featuring a fascinating variety of stories about Alabama’s environment, including Southern Exposure’s first-ever animated film.

Each summer, the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship 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.

Over the course of six weeks this summer, six talented filmmakers traveled all over the state 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.

“To make a film from start to finish in six weeks is no easy feat, and that compressed timeframe is very unusual in documentary filmmaking,” said Michele Forman, Program Director for the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship. “The fellows must research their subjects and film everything they come across–all of the interviews, events, getting shots at a variety of locations–and edit it all together to make a compelling and clear story.”

Now in its fifth year, the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship has resulted in the creation of more than 30 films. Southern Exposure is sponsored by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and made possible through the support and partnership of local and statewide conservation groups.

“Throughout the past five years, these gifted filmmakers have been effective in bringing some of the biggest environmental challenges in Alabama into focus,” said Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney of SELC’s Birmingham office. “The Southern Exposure films illustrate much better than mere words some of the more urgent issues facing our state and what can be done to address them.”

Films from previous fellowship years have spanned a range of topics, from uplifting success stories like the movement to reinstate the Forever Wild Land Trust, to the policy barriers standing in the way of Alabama’s statewide solar success, to a rare view of the breath-taking wonders found in the vast underground cave system in northern Alabama.

A screening of the 2016 Southern Exposure films will be hosted by USA-Baldwin County in Fairhope on Thursday, September 22 at 7:00 PM at the USA-Baldwin County Performance Center–the event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the program and meet the fellows behind the films, visit or follow the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship on Facebook.


2016 Southern Exposure Films:

Birmingham to the Gulf by Matthew J. Grcic
For over 100 years, Alabama’s rivers have been put to work with dams and navigation locks–sometimes with high ecological costs. As these structures age and with some no longer serving their original purpose, the idea of reconnecting rivers becomes a realistic possibility. In looking comprehensively at river management decisions and questioning the impacts of dams on Alabama’s waterways, its wildlife and its people, the vitality and biodiversity of connecting Birmingham to the Gulf is imagined.

Alabama the Beautiful by Mary D. Recio
Alabama’s State Park System spans from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf Coast, offering a diverse mix of terrains, ecosystems and natural wonders that are beloved by visitors and residents statewide. But keeping these precious public lands funded has been a constant battle in the face of state agency deficits and budget cuts. This is the story of those working to preserve the state parks and how Alabamians can advocate for their protection.

Waste Not Want Not by Scott Schimmel
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 model that is creating jobs and raising revenue statewide. Take a look behind-the-scenes at the scale and scope of the international recycling industry housed in Alabama, and the roles of citizens and businesses in shifting toward more sustainable solutions to address waste.

Herald of the Sea by Celine Schmidt
Alabamians know oysters as a delicious delicacy, but they are also a crucial species that clean our waters and protect our shorelines. Already stressed due to ongoing pollution and water degradation, oyster populations were hit hard by the BP oil spill while ongoing oil and gas exploration and the potential for future spills leave them vulnerable. Through Southern Exposure’s first animated film, we trace the impacts on the ecological power of oysters as the herald of our Gulf, telling us whether our oceans are healthy or in peril.

Good Housekeeping by Liza Slutskaya
Low-income residents pay close to half of their income on energy costs, a significant barrier from moving out of poverty. While Alabama ranks near the bottom nationwide in energy efficiency policy, the emergence of residential programs offering easy, affordable energy efficiency solutions is bringing down those costs. Learn about how these energy-saving opportunities are helping to alleviate financial burdens and reduce pollution, and the policy changes needed to create broader access to energy efficiency programs.

What a Waste by Cai Thomas
People believe that what they flush down the toilet gets cleaned at a wastewater treatment facility. But in Alabama, the lack of funding to repair and maintain aging infrastructure often leads to untreated wastewater being dumped in places where families swim, paddle and fish. Even worse, there is no comprehensive system to notify the public when water quality has been compromised. In the absence of agency enforcement, how can citizens take action and hold these facilities accountable?

To learn more about the program and meet the fellows behind the films, visit or follow the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship on Facebook.


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