Vicente Franco Photo, Courtesy of Turtle Island Films
Diane Wilson in Texas Gold
After taking a few weeks off for some well-deserved rest this holiday season, one of the Valley's most interesting film series—The Northampton Committee Peace and Justice Film Series—resumes its epic run. And I do mean epic—the list of previous screenings listed on the series website stretches back to 2004.
Hosted in the Frances Crowe Community Room at 60 Masonic Street in Northampton, the free series features a new film most Friday nights at 7 p.m., usually a documentary focused on issues of social justice. Frequented by an impassioned sort of filmgoer, the screenings are followed by spirited discussions about the evening's issues.
On Friday, Jan. 6, the presenters bring in Texas Gold, the story of one "unreasonable woman" who decided to take on the Goliaths of the petro-chemical industry. Diane Wilson doesn't seem at first blush to be the usual type of whistleblower—a mother of five and a fourth generation fisherwoman, she is a hard-working Texan who was forced into activism by the laissez faire attitudes of big business. A shrimper, she was aghast to learn that her home of Calhoun County had been named one of America's most toxic places; what was worse was the revelation that the companies destroying a once-rich fishing industry were doing it with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions—instead of pouring money into cleanup, they poured it into PR firms.
Since her life as a protester began over a decade ago, Wilson has been the target of death threats (and seen her dog poisoned), had a gunman take pot shots at her home, and spent time on the run from the Texas Rangers tasked with bringing her to a justice she refused to recognize. Ordered to serve time on a trespassing charge after a run-in with Dow Chemical, she jumped bail on the reasoning that if former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson wouldn't answer a summons from the Indian government to stand trial for the Bhopal tragedy, then she certainly wasn't going to answer to Dow/Union Carbide.
Wilson was eventually tracked down, and over the years she has served plenty of jail time. None of it has changed her determination to call even the biggest names to account—she was in the news recently for haranguing BP honcho Tony Hayward during his testimony at congressional hearings. A protester with a knack for publicity, she also doused herself in oil to drive her point home. In the past, she has bottled toxic run-off from a Superfund site and promoted it as "The Businessman's Water," a joke that gives the film its title.
Stories like Wilson's aren't often given much screen time, even in a relatively progressive area like Western Mass.; we should consider ourselves lucky to have a whole series dedicated to such fare. Here's hoping that, like Diane Wilson, people sit up and take notice.
Also this week: Pleasant Street Theater's own experiment in running an ongoing series seems to be a success: their midnight movies have been lighting up Friday nights for a while now and have only been getting better. This week, the theater brings in an absolute classic of cult classics when it screens Evil Dead. The 1981 film from Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) is one of those that you either get or you don't—a synopsis will only make it sound like many other much lesser films (essentially, mix together a group of college-age kids, a remote cabin and some evil spirits). For many of its devotees, this is a rare chance to see it not only on a big screen, but with a sizeable group of like-minded souls.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.