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Cinema Verde Presents: The Great Divide
Cinema Verde Presents: The Great Divide

Now Playing | Twenty minutes outside of Visalia, amidst the seemingly endless rows of citrus trees, Yolanda Cuevas packs enchiladas with shredded chicken for her husband Benjamin, their adult daughters and two teenaged grandchildren in her modest single-story home. Their house is the first one off the main drag, one of 83 lining the two crumbling roads that comprise the tiny town of Tooleville. Yolanda must wash the tomatoes for the salsa first in the sink and then again with a splash of clean water from a 5-gallon jug. The process is arduous, and though she’s resigned to do it, she’s not happy about it. Along with Tooleville’s several hundred other residents, Yolanda’s family has survived on bi-weekly delivery of water to their homes for the past 12 years. It’s an annoyance for the family, and it’s expensive for the State of California, which has been paying for the replacement water since the discovery of Chromium-6 (the same chemical featured in Erin Brokovich) in the water. The simpler solution would be to consolidate the town’s water system with that of its larger, affluent neighbor to the west, Exeter. And for this purpose, Yolanda has become a reluctant activist, attending community meetings in Tooleville and lobbying for consolidation at Exeter’s city council meetings under the expert guidance of Pedro Hernandez, an organizer with the Leadership Counsel. While Exeter has resisted the consolidation since it was first proposed, organizers like Pedro feel that this could be the year Exeter finally succumbs to the growing community pressure and brings Tooleville into the fold. The decision will echo around the Central Valley and across the state, as hundreds of similar community water systems find themselves in a nearly identical predicament.

Cinema Verde interviews Casey Beck
Cinema Verde interviews Casey Beck

Cinema Verde presents an interview with Casey Beck the director of "The Great Divide." Twenty minutes outside of Visalia, amidst the seemingly endless rows of citrus trees, Yolanda Cuevas packs enchiladas with shredded chicken for her husband Benjamin, their adult daughters and two teenaged grandchildren in her modest single-story home. Their house is the first one off the main drag, one of 83 lining the two crumbling roads that comprise the tiny town of Tooleville. Yolanda must wash the tomatoes for the salsa first in the sink and then again with a splash of clean water from a 5-gallon jug. The process is arduous, and though she’s resigned to do it, she’s not happy about it. Along with Tooleville’s several hundred other residents, Yolanda’s family has survived on bi-weekly delivery of water to their homes for the past 12 years. It’s an annoyance for the family, and it’s expensive for the State of California, which has been paying for the replacement water since the discovery of Chromium-6 (the same chemical featured in Erin Brokovich) in the water. The simpler solution would be to consolidate the town’s water system with that of its larger, affluent neighbor to the west, Exeter. And for this purpose, Yolanda has become a reluctant activist, attending community meetings in Tooleville and lobbying for consolidation at Exeter’s city council meetings under the expert guidance of Pedro Hernandez, an organizer with the Leadership Counsel. While Exeter has resisted the consolidation since it was first proposed, organizers like Pedro feel that this could be the year Exeter finally succumbs to the growing community pressure and brings Tooleville into the fold. The decision will echo around the Central Valley and across the state, as hundreds of similar community water systems find themselves in a nearly identical predicament. Our full catalog of video interviews and streaming films is available to members at cinemaverde.org.

GoGreenNation News: Why a “fracking refugee” is attending the global plastics treaty negotiations
GoGreenNation News: Why a “fracking refugee” is attending the global plastics treaty negotiations

Jill Hunkler, an Ohio resident who considers herself a “fracking refugee,” is telling her family’s story at the global plastics treaty negotiations in Ottawa this week, where negotiators from about 175 countries are working to advance a treaty to address global plastic pollution.“I was forced to leave my home that I built with my own hands,” she told Environmental Health News. “I lived in Somerset Township, Ohio, where my sister, my mom and I had 13 acres of land and we had spent years building homes on it that we loved, but then 78 fracking well pads were built within five miles of our home.”Air pollution from the fracking operations sickened her and her family, Hunkler said, and they experienced symptoms like headaches, nausea, rashes, body aches and difficulty breathing that they hadn’t experienced before the wells were drilled. The family tried to get help from regulators, but after years of suffering with little action, they opted to move.Her family moved to another property, she said. “But eventually fracking showed up there too, and I moved again to try and escape it. So now I’m twice a fracking refugee.”More than 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and as the world transitions to renewable energy, fossil fuel companies — particularly those invested in fracking — are driving a new plastics boom to stay profitable. For example, in the Ohio River Valley, where Hunkler is from, Shell recently began operations at its massive Pennsylvania plastics plant that converts fracked ethane gas into plastic pellets, many of which are used to create single-use plastic products like bags and packaging.Since starting up in 2022, Shell’s Pennsylvania plastics plant has been fined millions of dollars for violating clean air laws and is being sued by environmental advocacy groups over potential health impacts from harmful emissions. Last week, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Michelle Henry also announced charges against Shell for violating Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams laws with industrial waste during construction of the pipelines that bring ethane feedstock from fracked natural gas to the plastics plant. Concerns about pollution from the plant have also caused families to move away from the region.After becoming a fracking refugee, Hunkler spent eight years fighting to stop a similar plastics plant from being built near her home in Ohio — a project that has been put on hold indefinitely.“When people think about the health impacts of plastics they tend to think about harmful microplastics in our bodies, which is really important, but it’s also important to look at the devastating public health impacts all the way down the supply chain” Hunkler said. “Fracking and building pipelines in order to create more poisonous plastic is ruining people’s lives.”Tensions at the plastic pollution treaty talksIf the current trajectory for the plastics industry continues unabated, plastic manufacturing is estimated to account for more than a third of the growth in oil demand by 2030 and nearly half by 2050—ahead of trucks, aviation, and shipping, according to the International Energy Agency.The stated goal of the global plastics treaty is to end plastic pollution by 2040. Hunkler, like many other activists, believe this goal won’t be achieved unless plastic production stops. They are supporting a version of the plastic treaty supported by a group of “High Ambition” countries that includes slowing down plastic production via bans, restrictions or caps."It’s important to look at the devastating public health impacts all the way down the supply chain" – Jill Hunkler, an Ohio resident who considers herself a “fracking refugee.” Meanwhile, plastic industry lobbyists – also attending the negotiations in Ottawa – are promoting plastic’s beneficial uses, such as medical products and reducing food waste. The plastics industry, alongside a coalition of mostly fossil-fuel-producing countries, are pushing “chemical recycling” as a solution to plastic pollution, but environmental advocates say the process is energy-intensive, creates toxic air and water pollution, and fails to actually reduce plastic waste. It has also proven difficult to profit from chemical recycling operations — none of the approximately ten operational plants in the US are currently operating at full capacity, according to a report from the advocacy group Beyond Plastic. This month a chemical recycling plant in Oregon was shuttered, and a proposed plant in Pennsylvania was canceled amid concerns about the efficacy and feasibility of chemical recycling.“I hope sharing my story will help the negotiators in Ottawa recognize that fracking and extracting fossil fuels to keep making more plastic is toxic,” Hunkler said. “With the exception of the small amount of plastic that’s needed for medical and other essential uses, we do not need plastic to function as a society. It’s a relatively new product on the planet, and the convenience of it is not worth jeopardizing the health of our children and future generations.”

Cinema Verde Presents: Impossible Town
Cinema Verde Presents: Impossible Town

Past Presentation | After observing exceptionally abnormal rates of cancer in his Minden patients in the mid 1980s, Pakistani-born oncologist Dr. Hassan Amjad became the southern West Virginian town’s greatest champion, advocating fiercely for recognition of the persistent risk to human health caused by carcinogenic PCBs left from the mining industry. Some thirty-five years and three EPA clean-up attempts later, Minden remains largely ignored even as its population has dwindled from over 1200 to just under 250. When Hassan passes from a massive heart attack at the age of 70, his unsuspecting daughter Ayne, also a physician, inherits his decades-long advocacy efforts overnight. Grief-stricken but spurred by her father’s mandate to “help others” at all costs, Ayne hatches an ambitious plan to relocate the entire town to a 97-acre plot of land purchased by her late father as a retirement site. As she mobilizes allies in Minden and beyond, she is surprised to discover that her biggest challenge is an attachment to home that makes the town’s most endangered residents reluctant to leave. When a global pandemic unexpectedly thrusts Ayne into a powerful state government position, she sees an opportunity to move past her stalled relocation efforts and expand her locus of impact well beyond Minden. Ironically, the more Ayne pours herself into this new role, the more distance she creates from her closest allies – the Minden activists that have been involved since her father’s work began some four decades earlier. What’s more, her new work requires that she abandon her private practice and her hopes for a family of her own, subsuming her identity almost completely. As pressures mount on all sides – the creeping sickness of Minden’s aging residents, the growing sense of futility around achieving meaningful change in the cancer-stricken town, and the never ending political stresses associated with working at the state level – Ayne enlists the help of her personal lawyer to build a class-action lawsuit against the EPA in a last-ditch effort to help. Minden’s activist residents bristle at the new attorney’s aggressive approach, and this partnership implodes in dramatic fashion when small town gossip leads to accusations of fraud. Left with few options, Ayne feels stuck between a deeply ingrained mandate to “help others” that is the legacy of her late father and the increasing realization that she is sacrificing her own life in an attempt to do so. With the cathartic acknowledgment that her father’s death continues to haunt her, she must choose between her sense of duty and her own happiness. IMPOSSIBLE TOWN shows us tireless social and environmental struggle through the eyes of a cast of characters that complicate common rural Appalachian stereotypes. Dr. Ayne Amjad alone is a study in contrasts: a devout Republican with a strong activist bent, a daughter of immigrants who is a pillar of her largely white community, and a wealthy physician-turned-public-servant who spends her time advocating for her disenfranchised and low-income neighbors. With Ayne and the rest of our cast, nothing is as it seems. In addition to adding to the breadth of stories about how environmental catastrophes disproportionately affect the poor, IMPOSSIBLE TOWN has much to say about our complex relationships with home – the connections we form with the places we’re from, and the difficulty we have in letting go of those places, even when they’re killing us. Through the ambitions of Ayne and other Minden activists, the film explores the persistent modern American fantasy that complex issues are best solved through singular heroes and miracle solutions rather than the decidedly grittier work of slow and patient social, political, and legal exercises. Most poignantly, IMPOSSIBLE TOWN is an ode to the way we commune with our parents long after they’ve left this plane, their aspirations and legacies lighting our paths to unanticipated destinations, their absence leaving a painful void in our lives that never fully heals.

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