In 2020 and still in 2021 we’ve seen laid bare the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Indigenous communities across North America and the entire globe.
The pandemic has further underscored that systemic racism is embedded in all aspects of western society – including the environment.
Environmental Racism is the disproportionate impact of hazardous environmental conditions on members of Black and Indigenous communities. It refers to how marginalized communities – populated primarily by low-income people of color – are burdened by a significantly higher number of hazardous waste sites, industrial plants, landfills and other harmful pollutants that adversely affect health outcomes and lower quality of life.
Our first Film Program of 2021 explored Environmental Racism through the lens of three films, two features and one short, each uniquely equipped to deepen the conversation about these disproportionate impacts – and how affected communities are fighting back. Collectively, they weave together the realities of environmental racism; exposing the entangled threads that have tied systems of power to land and water for generations, and what must be done to repair the damage done.
The curation of this program was inspired by the work of Dr. Ingrid Waldron, author of the award-winning book-turned documentary, There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities. Dr. Waldron joined Dr. Jay Famiglietti on the Let’s Talk About Water Podcast in October to discuss environmental injustices in Black and Indigenous communities within Nova Scotia and science communication for Season 2, Episode 3: How Environmental Racism Pollutes Marginalized Communities.
“Environmental Racism is a problem. In Canada we know that your postal code determines your health. So we know that where you live has bearing on your well-being.”
– Dr. Ingrid Waldron,
There’s Something in the Water
There's Something in the Water
Directors: Elliot Page, Ian Daniel
Length: 73 minutes
Our first feature is none other than There’s Something in the Water, co-produced by Dr. Ingrid Waldron and directed by famed Canadian actor Elliot Page and Ian Daniel. It is articulate and deeply empathetic, containing all the elements that make a beautiful, expository documentary.
About the Film:
Based on Ingrid Waldron's incendiary study, the film follows Page as he travels to rural areas of the province that are plagued by toxic fallout from industrial development. As did Waldron, the filmmakers discover that these catastrophes have been precisely placed, all in remote, low income - and very often Indigenous or Black - communities.
Scenes from a Dry City
Directors: François Verster, Simon Wood
Length: 11 minutes
Our second film presents water resource management and distribution in the precise way it needs to be evaluated – in terms of power, access, class, and privilege – using the artistry of short film to capture of Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis approaching “Day Zero.”
About the Film:
What happens when a major metropolitan city almost runs out of water? Scenes from a Dry City explores the social fabric and implications of access to life’s essential resource in the face of Cape Town’s mounting water shortage. Shots of officers chasing residents conducting car washes and community protests are juxtaposed by lush green golf courses – painting a visual and quite visceral picture of the social inequities at play.
Scenes from a Dry City is the 2020 World Press Photo Online Video of the Year. It premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2018 and later screened at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Mini-Doc Award. It was produced by Charlotte Cook and Laura Poitras at Field of Vision.
“In many ways Cape Town’s spatial geography is a monument to Apartheid planning, and now municipal resources are applied highly unequally across the city’s population. What was also illuminating was how many wealthier people would, for example, vocally complain about how car wash operations in the poor townships were wasting water, without any acknowledgement of the fact that in many of those areas a single tap could be serving an entire street.”
– François Verster,
in an interview with Field of Vision
Driving While Black:
Race, Space and Mobility in America
Directors: Ric Burns, Gretchen Sorin
Length: 115 minutes
Our third and final film Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America gives us a look at racism from the inside out. Along with its exquisite structure, the documentary’s use of stock footage is in a class completely unto its own.
About the Film:
Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America - a ground-breaking, two-hour documentary film by acclaimed historian Dr. Gretchen Sorin and Emmy-winning director Ric Burns - aired on PBS on Tuesday, October 13th, 2020. The film examines the history of African Americans on the road from the early 1900’s through the 1960’s and beyond.
The film explores deeply embedded dynamics of race, space and mobility in America - focusing in particular on the experience of African Americans navigating the nation’s highways during the last four decades of Jim Crow - one of the most crucial, turbulent and transformative periods in American history. With urgent and powerful reverberations in American society today, this riveting history - at once revelatory, deeply troubling, and inspiring for what it reveals about human courage, creativity, and commitment to change - provides a crucial window on issues of class, automobile culture, discrimination and national identity.
How Environmental Racism Pollutes Marginalized Communities
Up until a few years ago Ingrid Waldron was best known in her province for teaching sociology at Dalhousie University and advocating for members of the African Nova Scotian community and Indigenous people. Waldron argued these marginalized people were victims of environmental racism, who for centuries were forced to drink tainted water, breathe polluted air and live next to waste dumps.
Now those concerns are reaching national and even global audiences, and change is happening in Nova Scotia. That's because in the last few years Waldron has released a best-selling book, There's Something In the Water, and a widely streamed documentary of the same name, done in collaboration with actor Elliot Page. They've made Waldron one of Canada's best known and most influential environmental activists. She discusses her extraordinary life and work with Let's Talk About Water host Jay Famiglietti in this all-new episode.