In early May, the moratorium on fracking in NC lifted. Not even a month later, Working Films—a local nonprofit that brings issues of social and environemental injustices to light via film—will host a free screening of “Fracking Stories” at Jengo’s Playhouse on Friday, June 12 at 7 p.m.
Fracking essentially allows for drilling and shale-gas exploration, whether it be in rural counties or along the southeastern shoreboard. NC is the nation’s 34th state to green light hydraulic fracturing.
“‘Fracking Stories’ is a compilation of six short films that expose the public-health and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, and the ways that communities are coming together to protect their land and water,” Anna Lee, co-director of Working Films, says.
After the screening, a photography and film-based art installation by Michael Premo and Andrew Stern will show at Wabi Sabi Warehouse. The project documents a communal effort to protect a way of life, despite its people having to rise above insurmountable odds.
“Now that the moratorium on fracking has been lifted in NC, and there are plans for drilling in our coastal waters, we believe the public needs to know what’s at stake,” Lee says. The cautionary tales educate on what North Carolinians can expect before, during and in its aftermath. More so, it shows how communities can stand together to block powerful industry.
“These events are a way for audiences to learn about issues and connect with organizations on critical environmental issues for our state and region,” Lee continues.
Working Films remain current with issues directly affecting our state. They recently held a screening of “Coal Ash Stories”—another hot topic thanks to Duke Energy’s complicit dumping of coal ash into our waters. The four short films in the series addressed health concerns, policy and how communities responded.
A national organization that catalyzes action in social and environmental issues, Working Films help filmmakers with theatrical screenings across in large cities. Yet, they’re focus mostly remains in the South.
“We’ve always brought our work home,” Lee admits. They’ve met many filmmakers, especially locals, whom have helped them through the 15 years of the organization’s existence. Also, they’ve screened films at Cucalorus, especially as part of the Works-in-Progress segment of the festival.
“More recently we’ve been coordinating statewide screenings and have hosted Wilmington showings as part of those projects,” Lee says. Plus, they’ve traveled the film-festival circuit to engage audiences, and they’ve hosted watch parties during HBO broadcasts. From their 2014 “Moral Movies” (a four-month series of award-winning films to help jumpstart community dialogue and action on social, economic, and environmental issues) to “Reel Reproductive Justice” (films about a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her body), they’ve covered numerous topics.
“We don’t make films,” Lee clarifies. “We broker partnerships between documentary filmmakers, organizations, and issue experts so that every time a viewer asks, ‘What can I do?’ we have an answer. We design and coordinate film-driven initiatives that have transformed toxic marketplaces, influenced public policies to be more equitable, pushed communities to be more inclusive, and inspired principled individual actions.”
Though the organization isn’t directly affected by the state’s sunset on film incentives—they’re funded by private foundations and individual donations—the networking aspect to the numerous friends they’ve met within the community has lessened. “Through our work, we have grown to know and love many people in the local film industry,” Lee says, “so we are worried about what the loss of the incentives will mean for jobs and the economy of Wilmington.”
Hopefully, it won’t have to become one of Working Films’ screenings in the future—one of up to 100 they show nationwide annually. Always free and open to the public—and hosted at places like libraries, community centers, houses of worship, art galleries—the films are meant to inspire the viewer beyond the seat. “We leverage the moment when a story has moved someone—we strive to turn interest into action,” Lee confirms.
It all started with Robert West, who cofounded Working Films with Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and organizer Judith Helfand. West was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2012 and passed away in 2013. The organization reconstructed thereafter to a staff of three: Lee, co-director Molly Murphy and campaign coordinator Andy Myers.
“As you can imagine, this was a sad and difficult time,” Lee notes. “As we managed that transition, we worked proactively to keep Working Films strong. We streamlined our programs through a new focus on two issue areas: the environment and the economy.”
“Fracking Stories” will show viewers the dangers of drilling and how it threatens health and landscape, from the Piedmont to the coast. “We’re presenting a creative opportunity for residents to learn the facts and repercussions of fossil-fuel drilling,” Lee says. “We will offer attendees a chance to find out about and get involved in supporting alternatives that are less harmful to the environment and public health. It’s also a chance to connect with environmental experts and organizations leading the charge to protect North Carolina.” —Shea Carver