Louisiana, Purchased

by Terri Garland

LA

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The economics of racism have long been entwined in Louisiana's complex history. In ways both overt and less immediately obvious, many minority and low income communities in Louisiana have been compromised to the point of extinction. Today, wetlands loss, environmental degradation and serious health issues directly attributable to chemical pollution continue to affect these populations disproportionately.

Louisiana, Purchased will examine the history of community dissolution and relocation beginning with the 1830 Indian Removal Act up to present day corporate buyouts. Through interviews with community activists and tribal elders, the film will give voice to those who struggle for justice in the face of a government who has long favored the interests of big business over the welfare of constituents.   

Mossville, Louisiana is on the verge of extinction. Founded in 1790 by a freed slave, Mossville evolved into a thriving and self-sustaining settlement that allowed residents to live lives free of  racism during the long period in which Jim Crow laws ruled the South. It was a good life for a long time, until the petrochemical industry established a stronghold in Calcaseiu Parish.  For decades, the health of Mossville residents has been compromised due to the close proximity of fourteen petrochemical companies, some of which began operations in the 1930's. Abnormal cancer rates, respiratory illness and reproductive disorders have all been scientifically linked to chemical releases routinely engaged in by these plants. Following a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company knowingly allowed ethylene dichloride - a known carcinogen - to enter to the groundwater, Condea Vista (now Sasol), bought out two hundred homeowners in 1998. In December of 2012, the remaining three hundred families found out during the evening news that Sasol was expanding operations - to the tune of a twenty billion dollar investment.

Presently, the remaining residents are struggling to decide whether to accept a new voluntary buyout from the South African chemical giant. Mossville residents are being asked to sell their homes to make way for Sasol's expansion, a new gas-to-liquid plant that will occupy a three square mile area.  

For over two decades, I have explored the ways in which discrimination is woven into our national cultural fabric. I have photographed various white supremacist organizations and those who are the recipients of their actions. For the past four years I have photographed exclusively in Louisiana, examining the ways in which our collective demand for petroleum products jeopardizes the health of both the residents and the terrain of Louisiana. In many instances, the populations most affected are people of color.

This film will begin by placing Mossville in the historical context of other Louisiana towns that have been destroyed because of pollution. Historians, scientists and legal experts specializing in social justice will offer their perspectives. We will attempt to meet with both government officials and representatives of the fourteen petrochemical plants that surround Mossville. But of  utmost importance will be the stories of the residents themselves - those people who have had their health comprised due to the pollution, those who have lost loved ones from chronic contamination, and those whose properties are literally dissolving into the Gulf.

But all is not bleak -  we will show the spiritual and cultural practices that have evolved over generations and form a vital role in the lives of residents. And of course, the festivals. Louisianans love these events and there are plenty to choose from. Festivals mean food and music and these two essential parts of Louisiana life will be part of the film. I will also be creating large collodian tintype portraits of community members and their home sites and these will be integrated into the film.  

This will not be a "preachy" film - my intention is to create an emotional connection that is supported by fact and also includes humor and beauty.  Our goal is to have Louisiana, Purchased become part of the national conversation regarding energy dependence. In sharing the personal stories of those directly impacted by mammoth industry, we hope to put faces to the issue where formerly there were just statistics.

Production expenses for a full-length film are high. I am being cautious in setting the target goal because in order to begin production, we must first meet our initial minimum goal. Travel is a major expense as is much needed new equipment (and rentals) - ESPECIALLY AUDIO. We must pay for insurance, news licensing fees and crew costs. If we are fortunate enough to meet our stretch goal, we will be well on our way to being able to pay for editing, musical licensing, sound mixing and other post-production costs. Every dollar really does count and the power of social media to spread word of this project cannot be underestimated! Please donate if you are able. And please promote this campaign by word of mouth, email and posting. 

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