COMPANY TOWN (Natalie Kottke-Masocco & Erica Sardarian, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, September 8
In Company Town, director, writer, and producer Natalie Kottke-Masocco and codirector, writer, and producer Erica Sardarian investigate the cancer cluster affecting Crossett, Arkansas, which has experienced an alarming number of men, women, and children suffering from the disease. Pastor David Bouie and others firmly place the blame on illegal dumping and sewage wastewater from the local Georgia-Pacific paper and chemical plant, which was purchased by Koch Industries, owned by controversial billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, in 2005. Kottke-Masocco and Sardarian spent nearly four years in Crossett, documenting the town’s fight against big business, an uphill battle all the way as it makes its case to the EPA, the Crossett Water Commission, ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality), the Arkansas Department of Health, and other organizations that are responsible for public health issues. “Koch Industries is one of the all-time champions of using the levers of political influence throughout the nation . . . and, yes, including Arkansas,” says investigative journalist and professor Charles Lewis. Former Obama administration environmental adviser Van Jones adds, “This is happening all across America; this is not just about one town. This is about a whole series of small towns in vulnerable neighborhoods that are being preyed upon by economic power and big polluters. They think they can get away with this. It is a century-defining problem, but it’s going to be resolved by little towns like Crossett fighting their way to some kind of justice.” The fight is led by Pastor Bouie, who refuses to take no for an answer as Crossett, the Forestry Capital of the World, uncovers the abuses by Georgia-Pacific and the “door-to-door cancer” occurring in the town of about 5,500 people, primarily of African-American heritage. Among those residents willing to go on camera and speak out against the plant that is also the financial lifeblood of the community are Jessie Johnson, Hazel Parker, Leona Edwards, young child and cancer sufferer Simone Smith, and former GP contractor Ken Atkins. They are joined by environmental scientist (and folk musician) Barry Sulkin; Elaine Shannon, editor in chief of Environmental Working Group; Huffington Post reporter Paul Blumenthal; research scientist Anthony Samsel; chemist Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network; whistleblower Diki Guice, who only reveals his identity after he loses his job at GP; environmental law and policy expert Heather White; and Ouachita Riverkeeper Cheryl Slavant, who declares, “Everyone who lives in Crossett or works in Crossett is in danger.”
Company Town is one of those documentaries that reveals mind-boggling injustice, where the average person seemingly has no recourse against corporate greed and a government turning its back on them. When regional EPA administrators finally do come to Crossett to check out the residents’ claims firsthand, it is clear that Georgia-Pacific, which did not respond to requests from the filmmakers to participate in the film in any way, was warned in advance and has made some changes that last only a week. Despite evidence that families in eleven of fifteen homes on one block have members who have died from or are battling cancer, the various government organizations don’t find that unusual. Pastor Bouie, who is also a former GP employee and reserve deputy sheriff, is determined to never give up. “How many of us that have worked to keep the company going, keep the company in business, how many of us have to die? How many of our children and family members have to die in order to keep one job at this plant?” he says. And his wife, Barbara Bouie, states the situation very succinctly. “They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they need to correct it.” Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. The film opens September 8 at Cinema Village, with the 8:00 shows Friday and Saturday night followed by Q&As with Kottke-Masocco and Sardarian along with producer Adam Paul Smith and cinematographer, editor, and producer Edgar Sardarian. The Friday night discussion will also feature New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman and members of the cast.