"Come Hell or High Water" is an award-winning documentary that highlights the struggle of a Mississippi community to fight for cultural and ecological preservation despite corporate interests. Mississippi is miles away from California, but the challenges the film depicts are universal -- they can be seen in areas like Long Beach, where community groups are grappling with similar concerns about environmental changes in the landscape.
One chapter of the film focuses on the expansion of the city of Gulfport, where a major road is proposed to go through the wetlands of Turkey Creek. In the '90s, the city's surroundings suddenly began expanding, with Wal-Marts, highways, an airport, and an industrial canal as part of the growth. The film depicts the work of Derrick Evans and Rose Johnson, two community leaders who respond to the many large development and infrastructure projects proposed in their community.
"There was a real boom in development that started to really affect that community," said Leah Mahan, director of the film. "There are high rates of asthma, heart disease -- they already had those concerns and they saw the road as bringing more."
On April 24, the film was screened at the Art Theatre in Long Beach at an event hosted by the California Endowment and the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ).
"The story portrayed in 'Come Hell or High Water' is similar to what we see happening in Long Beach," said Angelo Logan, co-director of EYCEJ, in an email. "[C]ommunities across the U.S. are continuously challenged with proposed projects, which benefit big corporations and ignore the negative impacts and costs to residents. Again and again, the quality of life of low-income, communities of color is not being considered."
Logan described correlations between the community members featured in the documentary and Los Angeles area residents.
"Much like Mississippi's Gulf Port, the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach are also proposing a truck thoroughfare through the center of our corridor communities, impacting community assets and the air we breathe: the 710 Corridor Project," he said.
Logan continued, "In the film, the coastal Mississippi community of Turkey Creek is fighting for the natural resource their community was named after. In Long Beach, the L.A. River serves as both a natural habitat and as a source of water. Due to ongoing development along this river, such as the 710 Corridor Project, the L.A. River has been severely damaged and is in need of restoration. It is a natural resource that was stripped from residents..."
KCET was also in attendance at the screening with a kiosk, on which were index cards where individuals could express their thoughts on the 710 Corridor Project.
"For those that knew about the freeway, it was a chance for them to give their opinion about what they thought of the project; for others, it was an opportunity to learn about the project," said Kat Madrigal, EYCEJ development and communications coordinator. "And through the discussion with the organizers, they were able to learn about it and that was a great opportunity,"
After the screening, Bay Area-based Mahan was on hand to discuss the film.
"I think it's partly a David and Goliath story and giving people the courage to stand up even when something seems overwhelming," said Mahan. "I hope it generally gets people thinking, but also sparks some ideas about looking at your own community, who are the stakeholders, how can we make some positive change."
Mahan plans to continue to screen the film across the country and is working on a project with Reel Power, where she hopes to support local and national groups who are working on environmental advocacy issues. For those who are interested in learning more about life in the Gulf Coast, Mahan recommends the Bridge The Gulf, a web project launched in 2010 that highlights the environmental challenges in coastal communities, and includes an active network of bloggers who write abut local issues and create multimedia stories.
"Come Hell or High Water" is available watch online for free on America ReFramed until May 29.
Here are some the community responses gathered at the screening: