Monday, May 11, 2020

Environmental pollution vs neighborhoods of color in Alexander John Glustrom's dire doc, MOSSVILLE: When Great Trees Fall

Right off the bat, we meet a local undertaker who informs us, "Mossville is a small community. But a lot of people do die." Gosh: You think there might be a problem here? More like a mini-apocalypse. Mossville, the very-nearly late and lamented town, as well as MOSSVILLE: When Great Trees Fall, the documentary that tells the town's terrible story, slap you in the kisser with the connection between deliberate environmental pollution and the destruction of not merely individuals but entire communities -- most readily those inhabited by minorities and the poor.

There's nothing subtle about the message or the style here. As directed by Alexander John Glustrom, the film may be about as awful and depressing as any you've seen regarding this growing problem worldwide.  The documentary also seems rather hit-or-miss as to what it has the time and budget to cover. Yet even this somehow works to the film's advantage, as it manages to include what's most important, while doing this in a 75-minute time frame.

In that short period, Mr. Glustrom gives us a history of the town (it began just post-slavery, as seven families joined forces to begin the community, and it had prospered ever since -- until large industry came in and began its destruction).

The latest industry to creep in has been SASOL (a South African-based firm that stands for South African Synthetic Oil Liquid), which we see at work both here, building its new Louisiana plant, and at home, where it began during Apartheid and has continued suppressing South African blacks ever since. (We even see Louisiana's ex-governor Bobby Jindal making his sell-out speech regarding SASOL.)

The man the movie concentrates on most fully is also one of Mossville's last residents: Stacey Ryan (above), a husband and father whose refusal to leave Mossville, where he was born and raised, has resulted in his increasing ill health and living apart from his family. We watch as Stacey must provide his own heat, gas and water -- as all utilities no longer reach his home, thanks to SASOL and the local government.

The final indignity comes when the company tries to prevent him from even driving up to and/or leaving his place of residence. They cannot do this legally, however, so for once Stacey wins the day. The photo above shows his tiny piece of land and home surrounded by a fence he has built; below, we see SASOL's encroachment upon that land.

As the documentary moves inexorably along, you'll probably find yourself alternately sad and/or seething, over and over again. Put yourself in Mr. Ryan's shoes, and you'll feel the kind of torture that leads to a slow, agonizing death. The film makes its necessary point about how environmental pollution and human rights abuses are linked due to the kind of corporate power and sleazy politicians that see lives  -- particularly these kinds of lives -- as utterly expendable.

By the way, the would-be "buy-outs" SASOL offers Mossville residents are shown to be so paltry that they do not allow those residents to move into decent accommodation elsewhere. When, toward movie's end, Ryan prays to his parents, long dead from cancer like so many other Mossville folk, "Daddy, mommy: Give me strength," and then, "Dear Lord, just give me enough time to see my baby raised, then I can go see my parents," you will be ready to plead with the man to toss in the towel. And hope that someone has the courage and smarts to get SASOL off the face of the earth.

Technical aspects are all they need to be, with the music of Carlos José Alvarez properly beautiful, solemn and dirge-like. From Passion River, the documentary opened in virtual theaters this past weekend in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

No comments: