4/27/23: Virtual Talks with Video Activists: “Chemical Valley”

Screening/discussion of the 1991 documentary "Chemical Valley" with director Mimi Pickering and moderated by Patricia Zimmerman

A full replay of the April 27 screening and discussion.

Chemical Valley (Mimi Pickering and Anne Lewis, 1991). On Dec. 3, 1984, the worst industrial accident in history occurred when a toxic gas known as MIC leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing at least 3,500 people and permanently disabling 50,000. The tragedy in Bhopal brought international attention to the predominantly African-American community of Institute, West Virginia, site of the only Union Carbide plant in the United States that manufactured MIC. Chemical Valley begins with Bhopal and the immediate response in the Kanawha Valley, an area once dubbed by residents “the chemical capital of the world,” following events in the valley over the next five years as lines are drawn and all sides heard in the debate between those who fear for their livelihood and those who fear for their lives. Chemical Valley explores issues of job blackmail, racism, and citizens’ right to know and to act as it documents one community’s struggle to make accountable an industry that has all too often forced communities to choose between safety and jobs. The film was produced and distributed by Appalshop.

Mimi Pickering has been making films and videotapes with Appalshop since 1971. Her documentaries often feature women as principal storytellers, focus on injustice and inequity, and explore the efforts of grassroots people to deal with community problems and work for change. A native of California who attended Antioch College, Pickering had her first media experience as an intern in Charleston, WV, working for the West Virginia Black Lung Association, a group of disabled coal miners and their families who were fighting for just compensation for their black lung disease and to reform the United Mine Workers Union. While in West Virginia, she began work with Appalshop on a film production that became her first 16mm film, The Struggle of Coon Branch Mountain. In 1972 Pickering relocated to eastern Kentucky to continue her film training and media production at Appalshop, but she has continued her interest in West Virginia subjects throughout her career. Pickering’s award-winning documentaries include The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (1975), which was one of 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant motion pictures named by the Librarian of Congress to the National Film Registry in 2005. Described by Newsweek as “a powerful piece of muckraking on film,” the documentary was a Silver Plaque winner at the Chicago International Film Festival.

Patricia R. Zimmermann is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Screen Studies in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. She is also Director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, a major international festival housed at Ithaca College now in its 26th year. The author or editor of ten books, her most recent volumes include The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Cinema (Indiana University Press, 2017); Flash Flaherty: Tales from a Film Seminar (Indiana, 2021), both with Scott MacDonald, and Documentary Across Platforms:  Reverse Engineering Media, Place, and Politics (Indiana  University Press, 2019).  With Dale Hudson, she is writing a new book on transnational new media projects as a follow up to Thinking through Digital Media entitled Digital Habitats: Transnational New Media and the Environment (Indiana, forthcoming). Her large-scale curatorial project, co-programmed with Louis Massiah of Scribe Video Center, We Tell: Fifty Years of Participatory Community Media, screened at over 20 sites across the United States.

This event is free to attend. Media Burn is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and we depend on donations to continue our work. Please consider making a donation along with your ticket signup, or at https://mediaburn.org/donate, or by texting MEDIABURN to 44321



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