A celebrity tweet on environmental racism in Nova Scotia led to the creation of a documentary film that was recently announced as part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup in September.
The film is called There’s Something in the Water, and it is based on a book of the same name by Ingrid Waldron. The book is published by Fernwood Publishing in Halifax.
“I was just screaming,” Waldron said of learning the film was accepted at TIFF.
“TIFF is the greatest platform we can have to get this film out there but also to share the stories of these women and to make a greater impact.”
The Oxford Canadian English Dictionary defines environmental racism as a form of “racial discrimination in the development and implementation of environmental policy” that leads to hazardous waste sites being disproportionately located near low-income and minority communities.
“The impacts of climate change will be worse for those who are marginalized so, once again, Indigenous communities, black communities, women, members of the disabled community and poor people are disproportionately impacted by climate change,” explained Waldron.
Waldron helped co-produce the documentary film with Canadian actress Ellen Page, who called her book a “must-read” on Twitter last year, generating a conversation about how Indigenous and black communities in Nova Scotia face environmental hazards.
The award-winning actress, who has starred in films like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Juno, reached out to Waldron, saying she wanted to use her celebrity platform to help shed light on the issue of environmental racism.
“How often do you get a celebrity who reaches out to you?” said Waldron. “So I thought the best use of our time would just be to tweet out information to her 1.4 million followers.”
Waldron also helped Page get in touch with local Indigenous and black activists to learn more about their fight in protecting their land and their communities.
“Ellen was on the phone saying: ‘I really want to help you guys,’ and then she came up with the idea of the documentary film,” Waldron said.
The film features nine women across Nova Scotia who were interviewed by Page in April 2019.
Louise Delisle is a resident of Shelburne, N.S., and one of the women activists featured in the film.
She said she’s feeling a little overwhelmed about being part of TIFF.
For 70 years, as Delisle was growing up, the Shelburne town dump received the region’s waste products. Everything from heavy metals to yard waste was dumped at the site, located at the south end of town — an area that has historically been home to black communities, she says.
In the film, Delisle talks about the many people who have died of cancer in her community and the ones who still suffer from different breathing problems due to the toxic environment to which they were exposed.
“One of the most powerful pieces that I think will come through in this film is how we had to live and what the outcome of that was, having to deal with that environment every day, the high rates of cancer and death,” said Delisle.
Delisle and the other eight women in the film will be attending TIFF in September, alongside Page.
“I’m really excited about getting the message out there internationally that we are protecting our treaty rights as well as exercising our role as Indigenous women to protect the water,” said Dorene Bernard, who is from Indian Brook, N.S., and is also featured in the film.
Bernard is part of a group of Mi’kmaw grandmothers, known as the Grassroots Grandmothers Circle, who believe it is their sacred duty to protect the water.
“Every day, I wake up and think about what I can do today to protect our water. It doesn’t stop,” said Bernard, who, alongside the other grandmothers, has been resisting a local Alton Gas project for the past five years.
The project, which is currently in the works, aims to store natural gas in an underground facility by the Sipekne’katik (Shubenacadie) River, and in the process, release tens of thousands of tonnes of brine into its waters. The site lies on unceded Indigenous land roughly 60 kilometres northeast of Halifax.
The project has been granted environmental approval from the Province of Nova Scotia, and the federal government will regulate it to manage potential threats to the ecosystem and human health.
“What I would like to put out there is that we cannot allow corporate capture,” Bernard said.
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“[The federal government] should be working at renewable energy, addressing climate change and protecting the environment. That’s what they’re there for, for the people.”
Bernard said she’ll continue to protect the water and the land for all Nova Scotians, and will be fighting even harder for a greener, cleaner future after she comes back from the TIFF screening.
The screening will take place at TIFF on Sept. 8.
Waldron also said the film will be screened in Halifax at a later date, which will be announced on her Twitter page.
“Awareness-raising is always the most important thing because, to me, awareness-raising about a particular issue leads to increased knowledge, increased empathy. And if people don’t know about an issue, if they don’t empathize with an issue, then they’re less likely to take action on it,” said Waldron.
— With files from Global’s Alexander Quon and Elizabeth McSheffrey