Page 3


film festivals and college campuses. Dunn doesn’t sit around; she’s already at work on a third movie, tentatively titled Thirty Spokes, an impressionistic piece about politics, energy, and the intersections of bothwind farms, presidential inaugurations, oil wells. She started Green in December of 1998, when she read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, whose activities were curtailed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana after the clinic was involved in a successful, high-profile fight to keep Shintech, a Japanese chemical company, from building a polyvinyl chloride plant in the town of Convent. Dunn called then-clinic director Bob Kuehn, who invited her to a meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. On that trip, she met many of the people she put into Green, assigning herself the task of bringing their stories to larger audiences. Over two years, she was in Louisiana for a total of 10 weeks, finishing with 100 hours of footage. A rough cut was ready in April of 2000; the movie was finished the following December, when it screened in Austin for the first time. That month, along with a review of Green, the Austin Chronicle ran a photo that depicted Dunn as an ethereal wood nymph emerging from a bamboo grove. She hates this photo, because it suggests that she’s a young woman who’s as nave as she is exotic. A female professor told her the photo had damaged her credibility, and Dunn fears becoming the hot, new character in the Cancer Alley story, what she calls “the commodification of Laura Dunn.” She seems overly alarmedit’s not as if McDonald’s is casting Happy Meals toys in her likeness. Often her reluctance to appear self-promoting dissolves into genuine shyness. “I don’t know why people just don’t watch the movie,” she told me. “I just want to be transparent.” .25 0 ur first stop in Baton Rouge is Willie Fontenot’s house, a bungalow with Mardi Gras beads hanging from the blooming camellia bushes. Fontenot, a native Louisianan, is national chairman of Clean Water Action, as well as a community liaison specialist at the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. A historian once called him “the grandfather of Louisiana environmentalism,” and he’s Dunn’s tour guide and political guru. She sees him as a father figure, and he returns the affection. An owlish man with thick glasses, he likes telling how she showed up with her cameraman, a strict vegan. After they’d spent two weeks filming and eating only textured vegetable protein, he took them out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Dunn brings him up-to-date on Green news, still disappointed that NPR didn’t bite on the story. “Everyone’s saying it’s an old story, Willie,” she complains. “Everybody’s saying it’s been done. It’s jelly bracelets. It’s Chinese shoes. It’s so Eighties. It’s over.” Wade Goodwyn, a Dallas-based NPR reporter, was “really into the story,” Laura says, but when he pitched it to his editors, they told him Cancer Alley had been amply covered. \(“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the story,” David Sweeney, acting national desk editor at NPR, told me later. “But it turned out to be not new news If you were going to make a documentary about Cancer Alley, not so long ago you might take this tack: Divide the world into oppressed people and bad corporations; toxic waste sites and beautiful gardens; good chemicals and bad chemicals. Call this version the Purified Story, in which you assign every character the appropriate white or black hat, then force them to stick to their role throughout the rest of the tale. Because the white hat-black hat model no longer Laura Dunn’s documentary Green “. . challenges the audience to confront the emotions of the situation and also trusts them to make their own judgments about it’ Michael Erard 4/13101 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7