PBS Premiere: July 23, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask the Filmmaker

Viewer Question: I grew up in New Sarpy on the (then) Good Hope, (now) Orion's "fence line." I went to school at three different schools there, each on one of the "fence lines": Good Hope Primary, Norco Elem. (same school featured in Fenceline) and New Sarpy Middle. Ms. Richards was one of my teachers. My husband and his family grew up and live there as well. Did you discuss lifestyles, diets or smoking habits with these people wanting the relocation? No one in my family or my husband's family smokes, we exercise, watch our diets and visit doctors (in private practice) for regular checkups. I can honestly say that I know no one in Norco with asthma, only one person that died of cancer, and all of our grandparents lived well into their 80's and 90's. I did move to Metairie, 15 miles away, three years ago. Maybe it was for a better view or because I know people shouldn't live right under the flare subject to evacuation at any given moment. And yes, my husband works for Shell, Norco and is healthy!

Grünberg: Our findings in the Diamond community confirmed the fact that a big percentage of people who lived there suffer from asthma and that there is a big number of deaths caused by cancer. We were not able to confirm the same facts within the Norco community -- on the other side of the tracks, where I assume you used to live. No, we didn't include our view on lifestyles, diets and smoking habits in either of the communities, however we were aware of it. It was not a surprise to us that the Diamond community, with a 50% unemployment rate, had very different lifestyle and habits than the Norco community where the monetary base is connected to the industry. As you know, a 52 minute film cannot include all we would wish to include. As a filmmaker, I tried my best to show the point of view on both sides of the issue. I am not aware of any more detailed health reports because local doctors, most of whom were employed by the company, would not grant me interviews.

Almost 10 years ago I shot a documentary in Urals, Russia -- in the area where the Russian atomic bomb was produced. I found plenty of evidence there that people were dying of cancer in a horrifying rate -- the Russian officials from the plant and the official statistics, however, were claiming that not even one person was affected by the nuclear pollution. The official view in this case was that there was no problem, yet there was clear evidence that people's health was affected. This taught me never to take the official point of view without questioning.

Viewer Question: I am with a group called MERA: Mississippi Environmental Recovery Alliance. We are currently in the process of suing the DuPont DeLisle plant. Our state DEQ has done nothing to protect the people of our area, our state representatives have done little on our behalf, and everything to accommodate industry. My question is why does the EPA allow these plants to self report? When a big corporation can collect their own environmental data, analyze it and submit it to the state DEQ and the EPA, how will we ever get adequate reporting? Most of these plants are located in low income and minority areas, where the people have little resources. The bucket brigade is a great idea. But in our case the pollution is in our air, our water and our land. Our bodies are contaminated with dioxins and heavy metals. Yet the EPA and MDEQ keep telling us nothing is wrong. EPA needs environmentalists on its team. Mississippi DEQ needs environmentalists on their board and a governing body over them to answer to the people. The RTK net, (right to know network), says that what we have in our bodies here are the same chemicals that are used in their process. Coincidence? We don't believe so.

Grünberg: You have a very valid question and we don't have to dig up too far to get an answer. We do live in a corporate world and this is also where the power is located. I hope groups like yours should fight for a change of this situation. Films like "Fenceline" can educate and bring this issue to the bigger public. I believe Texas is in the same situation as Mississippi as far self reporting environmental data to EPA. Good luck with your struggle.

Viewer Question: I had the chance to visit Norco in March 2002 with my daughter who was studying Norco for an environmental policy class in college. It broke our hearts to see the empty streets and torn down homes along the Shell plant. We were also followed all over town by someone who did not want us taking photos, etc. Do you plan on covering another environmental pollution or destruction story? Thank you for doing this one.

Grünberg: Fenceline was my third film with the environmental subject, the first two dealt with the nuclear and radioactive pollution in Chernobyl and Chelyabinsk, Russia. I am planning to go back to the Chernobyl area in November to do a follow up to the film produced by me in 1997 and titled "From Chechnya to Chernobyl." I will re-visit a village of Raduga, or "Rainbow" in English, which is located 80 miles downwind from Chernobyl. The 700 inhabitants of this village were given the option to leave, and many seized the opportunity. However, while many left, others filled their empty homes and vacant jobs. It is in Raduga where 6 years ago I met the Tsiplaevs, a family of ethnic Russians who had left their native Chechnya. "We were afraid to leave the house and shooting forced us to stay in the basement for weeks," then 39 year-old Lena Tsiplaev told me. "Here, I sleep safe and sound, and shooting doesn't wake me up at night. I especially enjoy the nearby river. I really don't give the radiation much thought. I prefer living with radiation over living in a war zone."