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The November 2019 release of Todd Haynes’ compelling truth-based narrative Dark Waters reminded moviegoers about how chemical titan DuPont de Nemours’ corporate greed delivered death-dealing PFOA pollution to six water districts around its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, poisoning some 70,000 people, including factory employees, their families and others living in the area — some 70,000 people in all.

Well, it’s happening again. This time, the South African petrochemical titan Sasol has obliterated the community of Mossville, Louisiana, to expand the pollution-spewing facility it has occupied since 2001 into a new, massive US Mega Project, an enormous factory built to extract and process low-cost natural gas from shale. The facility displaces Mossville.

Releasing in US theaters in March, documentary filmmaker Alexander Glustrom’s Mossville: When Great Trees Fall brings to public awareness about Sasol’s impact on Mossville, evidently with complete government support. Using archive footage of a speech by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the documentary indicates the government’s justification: Sasol’s investment of some $9-billion is the largest the history of Southern Louisiana and promises to bring prosperity and new jobs to the area. That big money simply outweighs the displacement of 1000 Mossville residents — all of whom happen to be African-American, and the descendants of freed slaves who settled the community after the civil war.

This horrifying and infuriating situation fits the profile of ongoing racism in America and could be considered an incident of not-so-subtly sanctioned genocide.

Dark Waters tells the DuPont story from the perspective of an attorney who persisted in taking the polluter to trial and eventually reached a settlement agreement (in February 2017) which cost DuPont $671-million but still allowed the corporation to deny any wrongdoing.

Chronicling Sasol’s pollution-in-progress, Mossville focuses on the victims of contamination, particularly Stacey Ryan, a gentle protester who refuses to move from his home although the other town residents have accepted a Sasol buyout and relocated, leaving their homes to be razed by Sasol. Their decision to leave Mossville was undoubtedly influenced not only by the government’s termination of water and electricity and other community services, but also because of the high incidence of cancer and other diseases caused by the corporation’s polluting practices.

Stacey Ryan refuses to relinquish his Mossville home because it’s his family’s legacy, one that he traces back to Mossville’s settlement by his forebears and the other freed slaves who founded one of the first black communities in the U.S., a quiet and modestly prosperous town, famous for a sense of community and self-sufficiency that survived the Jim Crow era. However, in recent decades, Mossville and surroundings have been steadily encroached upon by heavy industry and the Sasol assault seems to be the final blow.

Stacey Ryan is the last man standing in Mossville. He’s a responsible and conscientious citizen, a talented mechanic and capable handyman, and he’s has managed to overcome the government’s termination of basic civic services by carting drums of fresh water to his home and using a generator and his truck’s battery to power electric lights, cookers and heaters. But he cannot avoid breathing the petrochemical smoke and dust exuded by Sasol and he is exposed to the constant din of surrounding construction. Worst of all, he’s isolated and cannot have his five year old son stay with him because his living conditions have become so hazardous.

Stacey Ryan isn’t the only victim given voice in Mossville. The documentary also follows three generations of thoughtful, well-spoken women whose family were also among the town’s settlers (Fisher Street is named for their forebears), who speak quietly about legacy and what their family roots and their community mean to them. They want to stay put, to enjoy the sense of community and well being that Mossville once provided, but they’ve had to move three times to escape encroaching industrialization and, even with relocation, they’ve witnessed the lives of loved ones ended by long term exposure to the industrial pollution.

These are righteous people. Their stories are heartbreaking. The documentary is absolutely infuriating.

To sum it up, Alexander Glustrom’s Mossville: When Great Trees Fall is a beautifully crafted must see must see social justice documentary. The film’s subtitle, When Great Trees Fall, is the title of a Maya Angelou poem that really underscores Mossville‘s message: How many times are we going to replay egregious greed-driven historical scenarios before we learn to put human lives and a sustainable clean living environment first?

See this film and get on board!

Film Details:

Title: Mossville: When Great Trees Fall
Director: Alexander Glustrom
Release Date: March 6, 2020 (limited)
Running Time: 86 mins.
Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
Location: Mossville, Louisiana
Language: English
Distribution Company: Fire River Films

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