(Source: Unsplash)

For low-income, rural communities hit hard by natural disasters or industrial pollution, environmental justice education is often unheard of or unrelatable. Through the art of documentary filmmaking, Working Film’s Rural Cinema program is helping to bring environmental justice conversations back down to earth. 

Working Films is collaborating with five nonprofit organizations across the country on their Rural Cinema program. Over the next three months, these organizations — based in Montana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Utah  — will show a total of 20 documentaries as a way to open a discussion about environmental topics. 

Partnership for Southern Equity was the first to kick off the Rural Cinema program in Fort Valley, Georgia, with the documentary Cooked—a film about the consequences of a sweltering heatwave that killed hundreds of low-income black Chicogians in 1975. 

Fort Valley is a majority Black, agricultural community that experiences severe heatwaves and suffered a devastating tornado in 1975.

The August 19 event garnered a committed audience, said Marsha Gosier, an organizer with the Partnership for Southern Equity.  Even a storm — which can hurt turnout in a rural area — didn’t dissuade viewers, she said. 

“I lived in Atlanta for a while. The rain stops nothing,” Gosier said. “But when you’re dealing with rural areas, people respect nature. They respect God’s work. You just have some people, they’re just not going to come out. For people to stick it out and it’s looking like a tornado is coming, and they came early. They were very excited.” 

The Fort Valley audience ended the event with a standing ovation and a better understanding of how their experiences connect to the film, Gosier said. 

The film series will continue through November.

Mila Big Hair of The Center Pole is eager to show films like Paper Tigers and Warrior Women. As a visual artist herself, she understands the impact a film can have on her home, the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. 

Her own reservation borders the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, whose nearest grocery store is two hours away, Big Hair said. To provide access to food, Big Hair organizes and sends food trucks to the neighboring tribe.  

“When I talk about tradition, I talk about environmental justice,”  Big Hair said. “I talk about food sovereignty, all of those link together into one, one big package that was always there for us and what we always fought for.“

See the list below for future dates and film titles: 

  • 8/19 Partnership for Southern Equity, Cooked, The Mural (110 S Camellia BlvdFort Valley, GA 31030).
  • 8/27 Mountain Watershed Association, The Last Mountain, Resh Park (Resh Memorial Park, Indian Head, PA 15446).
  • 9/03 The Center Pole, Doctrine of Discovery, The Center Pole (3391 Garryowen Rd. Garryowen, MT 59031).
  • 9/17 The Center Pole, Warrior Women, The Center Pole (3391 Garryowen Rd. Garryowen, MT 59031).
  • 9/23 Partnership for Southern Equity, Right to Harm, The Mural (110 S Camellia BlvdFort Valley, GA 31030).
  • 9/26 Mountain Watershed Association, Gather, Sanaview Farm (280 Roaring Run Rd, Champion, PA 15622).
  • 10/01 The Center Pole, Paper Tigers, The Center Pole (3391 Garryowen Rd. Garryowen, MT 59031).
  • 10/07 Missouri Rural Crisis Center, The Lorax, Location TBD.
  • 10/14 Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Right to Harm, Virtual.
  • 10/14 Partnership for Southern Equity, Conviction, The Austin Theater (116 E Main St, Fort Valley, GA 31030).
  • 10/15 The Center Pole, Crow Stories, The Center Pole (3391 Garryowen Rd. Garryowen, MT 59031).
  • 10/19 Rural Utah Project, Eating Up Easter, Old City Park (Old City Park, Utah 84532).
  • 10/21 Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Sustainable, Location TBD.
  • 10/24 Mountain Watershed Association, Dark Waters, Location TBD.
  • 10/26 Rural Utah Project, Public Trust, Old City Park (Old City Park, Utah 84532).
  • 10/28 Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Kiss The Ground, Location TBD.
  • 10/29 The Center Pole, The Indian System, The Center Pole (3391 Garryowen Rd. Garryowen, MT 59031).
  • 11/05 Mountain Watershed Association, The Story of Plastic, The West Newton Gym (113 South Fifth St. West Newton, PA 15089).
  • 11/09 Rural Utah Project, Unskilled Labor, Virtual.
  • 11/18 Partnership for Southern Equity, Aint Your Mama’s Heat Wave, The Austin Theater (116 E Main St, Fort Valley, GA 31030).