But Green isn’t designed only to be an emotional experience; Dunn wants to use it as a political tool. After the disappointing turnout in Plaquemines she feels strongly that she should use the film to organize local groups. I had my doubts as to whether this movie could be really effective. As I see it, the film provides an opportunity for people to gather and vent. In this sense, Green works. But as an argument that Cancer Alley demands immediate attention, the film won’t be equally persuasive to all audiences. Dunn doesn’t seem to have taken this into account. Whenever scientists criticize Green’s lack of evidence, she takes it as proof that they’re corrupt; she never says she didn’t make Green for them, anyway. Distribution is another obstacle. Besides taking the movie on the road, Dunn is trying out an innovative marketing model. After PBS’s documentary series, “P.O.V.,” rejected Green, she signed a distribution deal with an Austin-based Internet company whose own success is due largely to wordof-mouth. The concept, known as “viral marketing,” is one few filmmakers have tried, but Dunn hopes to make Green a self-sufficient entity, a product she can spend little time taking care of while she shoots other movies. Finally, environmental politics in Louisiana pose still another obstacle to Green’s long-term viability. During the panel discussion following the LSU screening, Damu Smith, a Greenpeace activist, stands up to praise the film, inserting news about his recent activities into his comments. Two days later, Smith shows up at the screening in Gonzales and carefully lays out Greenpeace literature on a side table. \(When I talked to Smith in Gonzales at the union hall, he praised Green, claiming it will be “very central” to “the indigenous enthusiasm is somewhat ironic. “I must have called him fifty times, and he never returned a phone call,” she says. “TS him, I’m just a little white girl.” Nor has the film received unanimous praise from environmentalists, some of whom must balance their goals with their need to appeal to both activists and plant managers. Says Jerry Speir, a professor of law at Tulane and coordinator of the annual Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, “I would caution my environmental friends about leaning too hard on the cancer issue.” Hanging all the activism on the cancer story, Speir says, draws out so much “statistical noise and interpretive shenanigans” that the discussion gets sidetracked. 521 Last December, Dunn screened Green in Washington, D.C., at the National Academy of Science, where she encountered an audience of scientists for the first time. The meeting was not a happy one. “I kinda lost my cool,” she admits. In a discussion after the movie, Dunn says that Roger Herdman, Director of the National Cancer Policy Board, criticized Green for lacking persuasive evidence. “Where’s the evidence? I’m a fucking filmmaker. He’s the epi demiologist,” Dunn says. But statistical evidence plays an important role in public discussions. When I spoke with Herdman several weeks after the Green Tour, he spoke plainly about the resistance that Green might encounter. “Laura Dunn is a filmmaker, but she’s talking to scientists, and the scientists will say, don’t you have an obligation to make the point for causality as strongly as you can?” Anecdotes identify areas for investigation, he says, but given the low socioeconomic status in the river parishes, “you’ll be able to collect endless anecdotes about people who are sick in those communities.” Jerry Speir echoed this sentiment: “You can attempt to move the political process with that appeal to those personal stories. But you may or may not succeed. At this point it would seem we haven’t succeeded.” Since 1998, there’s been an abundance of literatureparticularly from spin doctors opposed to “junk science”to the effect that “Cancer Alley” is a myth. In a 1997 paper published by The Journal of the Louisiana Medical Society, based on data collected by the Tumor Registry, the incidence of cancer was no higher in the river parishes than in other places in the United States. “In short,” wrote Michael Gough, director of science and risk studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, “there is no Cancer Alley.” When I called Dale Givons, the director of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, he stood by this conclusion. “Cancer Alley is a myth,” he told me. “Any media about Cancer Alley should be based on science.” But Dr. Patricia Williams, who heads the Occupational Toxicology Outreach Program at LSU, would ask: Whose science do you mean? The Tumor Registry and the Department of Environmental Quality are “packaging the data, so they’re misrepresenting the data that’s really there,”Williams says. The Tumor Registry runs mathematical models that study only populations of 10,000 or more, still much larger than populations along the river. In addition, the “regions” they studied aren’t parishes or health districts but largely gerrymandered, grouping small slices of industrial areas with large rural areas. Finally, the Registry doesn’t distinguish child from adult cancers. Currently Williams, along with a group opposed to white collar crime, is attempting to get a court order to force the Tumor Registry to release its raw data. As Willie Fontenot points out, the story is far bigger than Green and can handle many more tellings. “It’s a thousand pound gorilla,” he says. One night in a student dive near the LSU campus, we drink beer and listen to Willie tell stories. “Laura’s caught only a small number of people involved in the struggle. She’s only touched the surface,” he says.”It’s like we’re in the middle of this huge lake, and she’s just”he dabs his finger at the tabletop, then again “and there are these ripples. These are the ripples she’s making.” At five the next morning, I return to Texas from the city of the Red Stick, which is full of blooming azaleas and camellias. Laura Dunn had seven screenings to go and the 1000-pound gorilla of continued on page 13 4/13/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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