The GFR salons will incorporate the medium of film by featuring segments of documentaries produced along the Gulf of Mexico. The documentaries selected are those that depict communities along the Gulf and the residents who are working to preserve and restore the land on which they live.
One of the featured films, “Can’t Stop the Water,” documents the coastal erosion imperiling the Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, La., an island southwest of New Orleans.
For approximately three years, filmmaker Rebecca Marshall Ferris, her husband, the film’s co-director, Josh Ferris and producer Kathleen Ledet filmed the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, including tribal leader, Chief Albert Naquin. The crew started filming in January 2010, only months before the BP disaster. The film covers that period of time, but is largely concerned with the effect of erosion and the tribe’s efforts to save the island from eventually disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico.
“For us making this film, we really wanted to show people outside of Louisiana how critical this issue is. We were just shocked when we moved to Louisiana [from New York] to find out that in a few decades most of the coast of Louisiana could be gone,” Ferris said. While reading about the subject and also conversing with many active in the environmental movement in Louisiana—including their neighbor in New Orleans, Cyn Sarthou, the Executive Director of GRN—the couple learned of Isle de Jean Charles.
“We wanted to make a big film, maybe cover this issue by focusing on various communities, but when we read about Isle de Jean Charles, we said, ‘This is the story,’” Ferris remembered. “Isle de Jean Charles is on the frontlines of this issue; they are feeling the effects of coastal erosion like no other community in Louisiana, and they have basically been abandoned.”
Isle de Jean Charles was originally included in plans for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system, Ferris explained. But after additional cost-benefit analysis, the proposed length of the levees was shortened, and the island was left out of the project. The federal government offered money to relocate the residents if 100 percent of the community was ready to move. “In a democracy, you’re never going to have a 100 percent vote in agreement, and so the offer was taken off of the table,” she said. “At this point, they’re really on their own to come up with resources to make a plan.”
Ferris stated that in presenting the story of Isle de Jean Charles, she hopes the film will enlighten people unfamiliar with coastal Louisiana’s challenges, as well as those that view climate change as a remote issue that will first affect other regions of the world.
“These are American citizens who are being forced to relocate because of climate change and coastal erosion. Hurricane Sandy really woke people up to this issue, because now people in coastal regions in the Northeast are finally facing that it’s going to happen to them as well,” she said.
Since premiering at the New Orleans Film Festival, “Can’t Stop the Water” has been screened at several other festivals across the country, including the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., the American Indian Film Festival and International Ocean Film Festival in San Francisco, and is scheduled for the upcoming Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, N.C., and the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
“We really wanted to make this film to give voice to the tribe,” Ferris stated. “[GRN] told us about these salons, and we jumped at the chance to have the film included and show people the face and the human cost of coastal erosion.”
Having the story of Isle de Jean Charles, a critically threatened community, shared at the salons is but one of the forums Ferris hopes the film will play. While there is no news regarding a television broadcast of the film, once a broadcast date is set, the film’s DVD release will then be considered. Until that time, Ferris welcomes any community groups interested in holding a community screening to contact the filmmakers via the film’s website.
“We would really love to continue getting the story out to the audience, so it’s available for community organizations,” Ferris said. “Having this story in a salon where people are exploring the issues and envisioning what can be done to help make a brighter future for the whole Gulf Coast is a great opportunity, and I think it should start with Isle de Jean Charles.”
For additional information about the film, visit cantstopthewater.com.
“Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek”
Like “Can’t Stop the Water,” its salon co-feature, Director Leah Mahan’s documentary “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek,” tells the story of a Gulf Coast community fighting to preserve its culture and its environment.
The film follows Derrick Evans, a Mississippi native who moves home from Boston. Evans returned to the area when, to make way for a commercial development in Gulfport, graves in the historic community of Turkey Creek were bulldozed ahead of the construction. Turkey Creek was founded in the 1860s by emancipated slaves and thrived for generations, though its development increasingly began to encroach upon the community starting in the 1950s. Located just north of Gulfport, the community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Urban sprawl was just one of the fronts on which Evans battles in the film; the purchase and proposed development of over 1,000 acres in the Turkey Creek watershed, as well as Hurricane Katrina and the BP disaster also challenged the community in the 12 years Mahan documented the work of Evans and his fellow community members.
In an interview with Bill Moyers Journal in 2007, Mahan explained that she and Evans first met in the late 1980s while working in Boston. Her interest in making a film about Turkey Creek stemmed from a trip she made to the community with Evans in 2001 to collect oral histories. In addition to working together on the production of “Come Hell or High Water,” Mahan and Evans formed and continue to work through “Bridge the Gulf,” a community journalism program established in 2010 to help Gulf Coast residents tell their stories.
“Come Hell or High Water” premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival in October 2013, where it received the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. According to the film’s website, the documentary will air on public television in 2014 with support from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB), but no date has been announced at present.
For more information on the film and the Bridge the Gulf initiative, visit leahmahan.com.