Aria Doe, executive director of the Action Center for Education and Community Development in New York’s Rockaways, met Oscar-nominated documentarian Josh Fox, director of Gasland, a few weeks after Superstorm Sandy hit, when he came to film Sandy’s aftermath. The two have joined forces in Fox’s mission “to help communities lead a renewable energy revolution, one community at a time.”
Sandy devastated the Rockaways, an 11.5-mile oceanfront peninsula in Queens, NY near Kennedy Airport. Fox filmed Doe at work in the Action Center, a community center that provides resources to the area’s poorest residents, which morphed into the area’s largest disaster recovery center serving those in need.
The housing projects near the Action Center, where residents live below the poverty line, were left without power for weeks. The neighborhood has still not fully recovered.
Aria Doe outside of the Action Center after Hurricane Sandy with people in line waiting for food. ©2012 Julie Dermansky
People getting supplies from the Action Center after Hurricane Sandy. ©2012 Julie Dermansky
In Fox’s new documentary How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, the filmmaker shot in places around the world impacted by climate change, including the Amazon jungle, the Pacific Islands, and the Rockaways. The film opens with Fox explaining how climate change’s impact has altered his own life, from his involvement in the anti-fracking movement to his global search for hope and meaning in a world he believes is worth fighting for.
Doe joined Fox’s Let Go and Love Tour that will hold screenings in 100 cities across America. The film is followed by panel discussions meant to help communities learn about a path away from fossil fuels and the power of banding together.
Seeing the film helped Doe connect the dots between social injustice and the environmental movement. She believes the screenings will result in diverse groups coming together to create social change.
Rockaway Beach post-Sandy. ©2012 Julie Dermansky
She is joining Fox to visit some of the coastal cities on the tour where communities live in the shadow of industry – places including Baltimore, New Orleans and Doe’s hometown, Pensacola, Florida, where people are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change and pollution. They plan on building a grassroots movement that will amplify the voices of those who are already fighting for their communities by sharing their stories of ongoing social and environmental injustice with Fox’s larger network.
Doe thinks the most important aspect of Fox’s film is that it can inspire people to act. “I don’t see how you can watch this film and than think it is OK to stay on a couch at home,” she said.
In New Orleans, Doe met with residents who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina, including Burnell Cotlon, the owner of the only supermarket to reopen in the Lower 9th Ward. After serving his country abroad in the military, he felt it was his obligation to serve his community at home.
The Lower 9th had become a food desert, with only junk food available after Katrina, the same situation the Rockaways was in post-Sandy. Cotlon’s market offers fresh fruit and vegetables. Without his store people would have to travel miles to get the staples for a healthy diet.
Aria Doe with Burnell Cotlon at his market. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
Aria Doe with Shannon Rainey, Samuel Egana and Lydwina Hurst who live in Gordon Plaza, in front of Press Park, a blighted housing project across the street from their neighborhood. ©2106 Julie Dermansky
In Gordon Plaza, in the Upper 9th Ward, Doe met with Shannon Rainey and her neighbors who live on a Superfund site. She found their stories eerily similar to those of Doe’s Pensacola family and friends. “In both places it seems everyone has had cancer or knows people close to them that have it,” Doe said.
Aria Doe with New Orleans painter, Beverly Kimble Davis. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
Shannon Rainey, a homeowner in Gordon Plaza with Aria Doe. Gordon Plaza is part of a subdivision developed by the city in 1981 on top of the Agriculture Street landfill. ©2016 Julie Dermansky
New Orleans artist Beverly Kimble Davis showed Doe a series of paintings she made that document social injustice in Katrina’s wake. Kimble brought some of her paintings to the screening of Fox’s film at the Joy Theater. Fox was moved by her work, which includes a painting of the Danzinger Bridge.
To Fox, the incident on the bridge where unarmed African Americans were fired upon by police, leaving two dead and four wounded, represents a breakdown in society that he believes still needs to be addressed.
After the screening, the New Orleans residents shared their experiences during a community discussion.
“Fox’s movie helps people connect the dots,” Doe said. “If people in New York voice their concern for people living on top of a Superfund site in New Orleans, those people gain strength and vice versa. We must spread each other’s stories and rise up together. Josh Fox’s new movie isn’t just a movie, it is the start of a movement.”
VIDEO: Josh Fox on Climate Change and Renewable Energy
VIDEO: Burnell Cotlon Speaking After A Screening Of Josh Fox’s Movie
“There is no way forward for New Orleans, or New York City for that matter, if we continue to develop fossil fuels,” Fox said during a panel discussion on climate change hosted by Indigena, one of the film tour’s sponsors.
“What if all the coastal cities in the Untied States have to move? Where will all the people go?” Fox wondered.
“The film moves us beyond incremental scripted statistics to the abrupt reality of those whose predicted climate future is present,” Janet MacGillivray, a lawyer and co-founder of Indigena, told DeSmog. “It’s like an environmental Scrooge film where we can learn how to rechart our most entrenched course, and awaken individuals’ dormant, passionate environmentalism to reconnect one to another in a movement of love and gratitude and hope.”
Fox also screened the movie in Abita Springs, 50 miles east of New Orleans, where residents of St. Tammany Parish have fought to stop fracking in their community.
“At the end of the movie, with tears streaming down my face, I watched as every single person in that theater got up together and danced to the rhythm of the Earth, hearts beating and blood pulsing. That’s powerful stuff,” LeAnn Pinniger Magee, an anti-fracking activist who helped organize the event, told DeSmog.
During a recent visit to Washington, DC for a screening, Fox was arrested. He joined members of the activist group Beyond Extreme Energy in protesting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for continuing to permit fossil fuel projects that will greatly accelerate climate change. Though he was able to make the screening after his arrest, his active participation in the environmental and social justice movement make it impossible to guarantee that if you go to one of the screenings you will see him in person.
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, will air on HBO in June. calendar of upcoming screenings is available on the film’s website.
VIDEO: Trailer for How To Let Go of The World and Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change
Lead image: Josh Fox at the Joy Theater In New Orleans. ©2016 Julie Dermansky