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The Big Muddy Film Festival of Southern Illinois University is a student-run international film festival that celebrates emerging and accomplished filmmakers and is dedicated to encouraging grassroots filmmaking in local communities. Students in the Big Muddy Crew are submitting reviews of films that will be shown at this year's festival, which runs Feb. 18 to 24. For more information, visit bigmuddyfilm.com.

The Big Muddy Film Festival will this year include the screening “Ecology and Resistance,” a program of six documentary short films that explore the damage humans are imposing on the environment and the spirit we need to change course.

The films will take the audience to locations across the United States where nature is under siege by profit-blinded corporations colluding with government blindness to the needs of its people, threatening ecological stability and human well-being. After establishing the factors responsible for humans’ fraught relationship with the environment, the films will showcase the grassroots efforts of some to take a stand against these injustices, and the ecocentric philosophy guiding them.

The screening will begin with “Montana Divided: A Climate Change Story”, a film that documents the effects that climate change is having on the environment and people in Montana, and the political divisions preventing action to stop it. The place can be seen as a microcosm of a society where ecological well-being is rapidly declining, but change is impeded by the political and economic stronghold of polluting industries.

Following this is “Ashes to Ashes”, a documentary about how coal ash pollution from power plants is threatening the health of communities in Alabama, particularly low-income communities of color.

These two films have a particular relevance to Illinois, where the long-standing prominence of the coal industry represents one of the greatest challenges to achieving sustainability. The second film also parallels Illinois’ coal ash crisis, whereby a large majority of coal ash dump sites in the state have been found to have contaminated nearby groundwater.

The third film, “Oceti Sakowin Zombie Apocalypse”, is an observational portrait of the eviction of peaceful protesters from the Oceti Sakowin Water Protector camp by militarized state troopers during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota. The film shows the desolation of a world where the state serves the interests of exploitative corporations, but also the heroism of those who stand up to these powers to protect their rights and the environment.

Next, “The Accidental Environmentalist” profiles environmental justice advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers. Flowers has dedicated her life to standing up for poor minorities living in Lowndes County, Alabama, where dilapidated conditions have led to waste water contaminating the soil. She is from the county and describes the inseparable connection her people have to the land, which has become sickened.

This theme of close connection with nature continues with “Lotus”, which will provide a reprieve from more serious fare to transport the audience to the world of a young girl living in rural Thailand. This poetic experimental documentary provides a glimpse through a child’s eyes of a people whose deep poverty is mitigated by a transcendent relationship with their land and the spiritual and economic bounty it provides them.

Finally, “The Story of a Forest” will inspire you to take to the trees to defend the environment from the destructive hands of economic development. This film documents the over 10-year campaign of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition to stop the construction of a biotech institute on forested land in Florida that provides critical habitat for many species. The activists deploy a relentless mix of direct-action protests and legal challenges, but ultimately end up losing much of the forest. However, their efforts serve as a model to groups everywhere defending the rights of nature.

These films demonstrate many of the problems with humans' exploitative relationship with nature. However, they also suggest a way forward. This is not only through collective action to challenge the systems of destruction, but also by changing our perspective to see nature as intrinsically valuable and inseparable from our lives and well-being. This ecocentric perspective is essential to building a more just, sustainable, and harmonious world.

The "Ecology and Resistance" screening will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, in SIU's Morris Library's Guyon Auditorium. 

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