City of Enchantment


TYPE
: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Development

LOGLINE

Chemical plants dominate the landscape of Lake Jackson, Texas, where filmmaker Gwen Schroeder returns to assist her father during his rapid decline from Parkinson’s disease and subsequently learns that many others in her hometown are meeting a similar fate. While dealing with her own grief, she exposes the story of a powerful industry, the devastating effects that greed and irresponsibility have on the health of a community, and more personally -- a family.

SYNOPSIS

Lake Jackson, Texas, is a place with two distinct stories. One is a sparkling land of promise with better opportunities for all. The other is related to my father's devastating illness and death -- that’s the story I’m telling in this documentary. 

Lake Jackson’s veneer is rosy: it’s the “City of Enchantment,” with winding streets named after trees and flowers. But nearby you’ll also find miles of pipelines that pump out millions of gallons of toxic chemicals each year. After my father worked in this industry for over 35 years, his longed-for retirement was reduced to a life in rapid decay. His story is sadly one of many.

This investigation exposes the relationship between toxins in our environment and disease, the tragic cost of the indiscriminate use of chemicals, and the misinformation spread by those we trust. 

Now that our country’s current administration plans to slash environmental protections, our communities will have to take important water and air monitoring into our own hands, using citizen science techniques. This documentary film and web series captures this process, as well as offering inspiration and tools for other communities faced with similar challenges.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

Bright gas flares light up the night sky in Lake Jackson, and they billow constantly, almost majestically. When you drive past them, they’re scarily normal, always unquestionably there. I remember them welcoming me home – one of the last times I ever saw my Dad – the outward sign of a deeply rooted problem. I want people to feel this juxtaposition: the ubiquity of a toxic industry and the corrosive effect it has on the people surrounding it.

I will draw on archival footage and advertisements from the forties to sixties, which exemplified post-war idealism and the notion of “Better Living Through Chemistry” to illustrate how the chemical industry has perpetuated a false notion of safety and responsibility to the public and how these “wonder chemicals” have turned against us. And I want to humanize it through my Dad’s story.

Before he died, I filmed profoundly intimate moments from my father’s struggle with Parkinson’s. These are accompanied by archival footage from the development of Lake Jackson and family home movies that show a happy, optimistic past. As a new mother, I also have the rare perspective to link our community’s past with its present and future, mirroring my father’s decline with my daughter’s growth.

But there is more than emotion, and this is not just about my family. You hear ex-workers afraid to tell their story but also public officials who praise the industry for the creation of jobs. You meet real people, mothers and activists, who have spent decades helplessly speaking out. As the film’s protagonist, I will narrate portions of the film to drive the narrative along. To help the audience understand the complicated relationships between the petrochemical industry and national, state and local officials which influence policy, regulation and enforcement, I will use artistic animations to map out these links.

I want the film to end with honest hope and solutions: to show that the plight of the community is part of the public consciousness and to highlight how our town was able to affect meaningful change through direct action. These actions include employing citizen science methods for air and water pollution monitoring, piloting new tools available to the public as technology rapidly changes in this scientific field. As open source science projects become more accessible to communities, mobile technologies and computers enable residents to become makers and scientists with the ability to measure industry’s impact, subsequently polluting corporations are held to a higher level of accountability.

KEY CREW

Rebecca Stern - Associate Producer
Rebecca is a documentary filmmaker and Associate Producer. She served as the Associate Producer on THE BOMB, an innovative installation and film experience which closed the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, and recently worked as the Production Coordinator for CARTEL LAND, which premiered at Sundance 2015 and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. She also directed WELL GROOMED, which premiered at IFFBoston and Seattle International Film Festival. Rebecca has worked extensively in documentary impact marketing and distribution, managing the development and implementation of film campaigns with Picture Motion, a leading impact marketing firm. Her impact work includes FOOD CHAINS (2016 BritDoc Impact Award), THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING, and NEWBURGH STING. Before Picture Motion, she worked as Campaign Coordinator for the film ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, working directly with the award-winning filmmaking team Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke, producer of Grey Gardens.

Isaac Wayton - Editor

Isaac Wayton is currently lead Film and Video Editor for TED Talks and has more than 10 years of editing experience. His work includes Discovery, National Geographic, and History channel shows, Dual Survival, Hard Time, Great Lake Warriors, Alaska Wing Men, Storm Chasers, History Detectives, The Detonators, Mystery Diagnosis and countless EPKs, sizzle reels, music videos, corporate videos, and web series. He also edited the P.O.V. / PBS feature documentary, Up Heartbreak Hill. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, Isaac received a BFA in Film + Video at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

 

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