Making Movies to Make a Difference

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Tompkins Weekly July 4, 2011. By Shira Golding

When a group of over seventy Ithacans came together in the fall of 2009 to make Frac Attack: Dawn of the Watershed, we had no idea how widely our twenty-minute zombie movie about the dangers of natural gas drilling would be used. Since its premiere to a packed crowd at Cinemapolis, the film has been watched by thousands online and at community screenings around the region. It has been shown in classrooms including New Roots Charter School and Ithaca High School where the Student Council passed a resolution to “to take a stance against fracking and to educate the community about its dangers.”

Frac Attack was broadcast on public access television in Ithaca and Binghamton and screened as part of a candidates’ forum in Montrose, PA, at the Left Forum in New York City and most recently, at the Epic No Frac Event, a daylong convergence of activists that took place at Ithaca College on June 25th.

While it is gratifying for any filmmaker to have their work seen at all, our goal from the beginning was to inspire community engagement and it has been powerful to watch Frac Attack provoke meaningful dialogue, especially from young people who may have to deal with the negative long-term impacts that natural gas drilling could have in our area.

But those of us that are most concerned with this issue know that it will take more than being against something to win. We must define what we are for and move towards that collective goal. It is in this spirit that we are working on two new sustainability-focused films that we hope will engage audiences with the same success as our little eco-thriller.

We Can’t Stop will be a feature-length musical movie about self-sufficiency and community. The premise: When the members of a touring music band run out of gas and pull over in a small town, they discover that there is a national gas shortage and find themselves stuck for the weekend. As the band-mates are introduced to new approaches to energy production, food growing and more, they undergo personal transformations that forever change their identities and relationships with the environment.

The musical has received a Mini-Grant from Sustainable Tompkins and is being produced by a collective of people who made Frac Attack including members of Shirari Industries and The Dacha Project, and Paola Hernández, McKenzie Jones-Rounds and Nutmeg Dougherty.

Open auditions were held over the winter and diverse community members were cast in lead roles. We are currently working on finalizing the script, recording original songs and choreographing dance routines including a big synchronized bicycle number. All are welcome to get involved in the project, whether you want to sing and dance or help behind-the-scenes.

While Frac Attack and We Can’t Stop are fictional forays, Shirari Industries is also directing a documentary, to be completed by the end of the summer, called Empowered. Produced by local off-grid farmer and anti-fracking activist Suzanne McMannis, the film showcases the many Tompkins County locals who are generating their own power using renewable energy sources.

Shooting started last fall and numerous interviews have been conducted. In addition to profiling individual families who have made significant inroads to energy self-sufficiency, we are also including public projects like the Town of Caroline office building, which includes solar and geothermal installations, and the Enfield Energy community wind farm project, which when completed, could provide fifty percent of the county’s energy needs.

As with Frac Attack, our goal with these new releases is that they be seen widely and used to inspire action. We plan on partnering with local nonprofits and schools to organize community screenings that will provide forums for strategizing on how we can move forward together towards energy independence and environmental conservation.

Shira Golding is a filmmaker, graphic designer and activist. Learn more about her work and get in touch at www.shirari.com.

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