Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chevannes' and Shields' LIVING DOWNSTREAM has FSLC debut on Oct. 20

A shining example of the "personal as political," the new documentary LIVING DOWNSTREAM is only 55 minutes long, but what a bracing amount of content and importance, not to mention feeling, is contained therein. The movie tracks the mission and the story of ecologist and cancer survivor (for now) Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., who struggles righteously and quietly to call attention to what man-made carcinogens from the production and disposal of chemicals are doing to the health of ourselves and our children.

The film's title comes from a parable told at its beginning about villagers who live along a riverbank and the bodies, more and more of them, that come floating down-stream. These good people try to help the drowning victims but it never occurs to them to go upstream to discover who is pushing the people into the river. By the end of this short documentary, the filmmakers -- director and producer Chanda Chevannes (above) and editor-producer Nathan Shields
(below) -- along with their subject, Dr. Steingraber, make certain that we understand that we are those villagers and that we had better do our best to see that these murders cease. As does the recent doc Pink Ribbons Inc.this one also questions why so much time, money and effort are spent looking for a "cure" for cancer, rather than simply preventing its spread via these vile toxins.

The film's secret weapon is simply Steingraber herself. The woman's research is on the mark, while her quiet, reasonable voice somehow makes itself heard quite strongly and beautifully. A bladder cancer survivor, she explains that "There is lots of cancer in my family, but the punch line of my story is that I was adopted." This knowledge made her pay ever closer attention to the environment. But who, she asks us, gets to decide just how bad a certain health problem is -- those who are sick, or those who are creating and disposing of those chemicals that are making us sick? As usual, it's the latter, for that's how we "regulate" and "decide" here in America, whether it's about Wall Street and business or food and drugs.

We get the history of DDT vis a vis WWII (and how the left-over chemicals developed at that time were put to use without the proper testing), along with that of Rachel Carson, the scientist who, fifty years ago, warned the USA and the world of the what was already happening, even as she herself was dying of cancer.

We learn about Atrazine, banned by the European Union but still in heavy use here in the USA. We meet Steingraber's family -- husband and kids -- and even her cousin John, a farmer who is trying to use Atrazine as carefully as he can. Good luck.

In a speech she gives before a packed house she uses breast milk, in a sealed bottle that is passed from one audience member to the next, as an example of what's best about a child's nourishment that has now been compromised by our industry. We see Buzzard's Bay in New Bedford, Massachu-setts, the most polluted site for PCB's in the USA (and possibly the entire world). Yet progress is being made here, so why not elsewhere?

This woman knows what she is doing. In another important speech, she explains to her audience that this country claims that there is not enough evidence to ban Atrazine; yet there is now more evidence of its harm that there was that of PCBs when they were finally outlawed. Yet Steingraber is never strident. Neither is this movie. Instead, it is timely, intelligent, deeply felt and very well communicated. Consider it another must-see.

Living Downstream will have its Film Society of Lincoln Center premiere at the -- correction: it will not be screening at the Walter Reade Theater, as I stated earlier, but at the FSLC's new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center this coming Saturday, October 20, one time only at 2pm, followed by a 45-minute Q&A moderated by Mountainfilm director David Holbrooke. The 55-minute film will also be making appearances in cities around the country; to view the schedule, simply click here. And finally, the film will be shown on Outside TV, at some point in November.

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