“WHAT LIES UPSTREAM”

April 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm

In 2014, a massive chemical spill in West Virginia left more than 300,000 people without safe drinking water. PBS’ Independent Lens premieres “What Lies Upstream,” a documentary that exposes government negligence and bureaucratic malpractice, providing an alarming cautionary tale for you and your family. Investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback is here with a preview.

Aired on April 16, 2018.

 

 

 

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>>> IN JANUARY 2014, WEST
VIRGINIANS NOTED THAT THEIR TAP
WATER HAD A PECULIAR SMELL.
THEY SOON DISCOVERED THAT A
MYSTERIOUS CHEMICAL HAD LEAKED
INTO A RIVER NEAR THE CAPITAL
CITY OF CHARLESTON FROM A NEARBY
CHEMICAL PLANT POISONING THE
DRINKING WATER OF NEARLY HALF OF
THE STATE'S CITIZEN.
CALIFORNIA FILMMAKER WHO HAD
FAMILY TIES TO WEST VIRGINIA
DECIDED TO FIND OUT WHY THE
CONTAMINATION HAPPENED AND IN A
SUBSEQUENT INVESTIGATION HE
DISCOVERED A DISTURBING REALITY
OF NATIONAL PROPORTIONS.
HE CHRONICLES HIS THREE-YEAR
CONVERSATION IN HIS COMPELLING
DOCUMENTARY WHAT LIES UPSTREAM.
HERE IS A PREVIEW.
>> THE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICEMEN
WE PAY TO PROTECT ARE ACTUALLY
THE CRIMINALS.
>> IT'S UNCONSCIONABLE THE
FREEDOM INDUSTRY DID NOT REPORT
THE LEAK.
>> WE ARE THE FIRST HUMAN BEINGS
IN WHICH CHEMICALS HAVE BEEN
EXPERIMENTED ON.
>> WE HAD A DAUGHTER THAT WENT
TO THE HOSPITAL AND HER NECK
STARTED TO SWELL.
>> IF YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH IT,
YOU WILL DO THAT.
>> IS THE WATER SAFE?
>> WHAT LIES UPSTREAM?
§
§
>> "WHAT LIES UPSTREAM"
PREMIERES AT 10:00 P.M. ON APRIL
16th AND COLIN HOLBECK IS THE
FILM'S DIRECTOR JOINS US NOW.
COLIN, THANKS SO MUCH FOR
JOINING US TODAY.
>> I'M EXCITED TO BE HERE.
>> SO, COLIN, BESIDES YOUR
FAMILY TIES TO WEST VIRGINIA AND
YOUR FOND MEMORIES OF IT BECAUSE
YOU USED TO VISIT WHEN YOU WERE
A KID, WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO GET
INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT WHICH
ENDED UP BEING A THREE-YEAR
ODDSEY?
>> IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE
SPILL THERE WASN'T MUCH
INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT HAD
HAPPENED, AND THERE WAS ONE CLUE
THAT REALLY STUCK WITH ME WHICH
IS IT SEEMED LIKE THE ONLY
REASON THE CONTAMINATION HAD
BEEN UNCOVERED AT ALL WAS
BECAUSE OF THE SMELL.
BASICALLY, I THOUGHT I COULD GO
TO WEST VIRGINIA AND START
ASKING QUESTIONS.
I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A MONTH, I
GET IN, GET OUT AND THAT WAS
CRAZY, CRAZY ASSUMPTION.
AS DOCUMENTED FILMMAKERS WE LIE
TO OURSELVES ABOUT HOW LONG
THESE THINGS WILL TAKE.
IT'S YEARS, OF COURSE, BEFORE I
REALLY GOT TO THE BOTTOM OF IT.
>> SO WHAT DID YOU DISCOVER
RIGHT OFF THE BAT?
>> RIGHT OFF THE BAT, SORT OF AN
INTERESTING SITUATION THAT
HAPPENED BECAUSE EVERYBODY
WITHIN HALF THE STATE HAD BEEN
AFFECTED BY THIS CONTAMINATION.
SO IT KIND OF CREATED THIS
OPENING WHERE POLITICIANS AND
REGULATORS AND EVERYBODY IN THE
POPULATION WANTED ANSWERS.
SO THAT GAVE ME KIND OF
UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS TO PLAYERS
IN THE STATE CAPITAL AND TOP
REGULATORS IN THE STATE FROM THE
HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO THE
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL
PROTECTION.
>> TWO THINGS THAT REALLY
SURPRISED ME RIGHT OFF THE BAT.
FIRST IS THAT NO ONE REALLY KNEW
MUCH, IF ANYTHING AT ALL, ABOUT
THE CHEMICAL THAT HAD BEEN
POURED INTO THE RIVER.
MCHM.
NOBODY KNEW THAT MUCH ABOUT IT
AND SECONDLY, THAT NOBODY HAD
QUESTIONED THE WISDOM OF PUTTING
A CHEMICAL PLANT JUST UPSTREAM
OF THE WATER PLANT THAT PROVIDED
THE WATER FOR 300,000 WEST
VIRGINIANS.
>> THAT DOES SEEM LIKE A
SHOCKING PIECE OF INFORMATION,
BUT WHAT'S MORE SHOCKING IS THAT
THE SAME THING IS HAPPENING IN
EVERY STATE IN THIS COUNTRY.
THERE ARE ALMOST NO STATES AT
ALL THAT HAVE ANY KIND OF
REGULATION PREVENTING
NON-HAZARDOUS, ALLEGEDLY
NON-HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS BEING
STORED UPSTREAM OF A WATER
SUPPLY.
>> ULTIMATELY, I THINK, THE FILM
IS ABOUT THE CORRUPTION OF THE
VERY REGULATORY BODIES THAT ARE
SUPPOSED TO PROTECT US FROM
HAZARDOUS ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS,
RIGHT?
NAME NAMES.
TELL US WHAT INSTITUTIONS YOU
DISCOVERED THAT WERE ACTUALLY
NOT BEING HONEST, TO SAY THE
LEAST, WITH US.
>> WELL, WHAT HAD STARTED AS AN
INVESTIGATION INTO STATE
REGULATORY AGENCY, YOU FIND IT'S
REALLY HAPPENING AT THE FEDERAL
LEVEL, AS WELL.
SO YOU KNOW, THE EPA AND THE
CDC, UP UNTIL THIS POINT I
REALLY THOUGHT THAT THEY WERE
THE GOOD GUYS AND YOU SEE STATE
REGULATORS LIKE GOVERNORS SUING
THE EPA AND YOU THINK GOSH,
THEY'RE CHAMPIONS OF PUBLIC
HEALTH.
>> ONE OF THE MOST ATTRACTIVE
THINGS ABOUT THE FILM IS THE WAY
THAT YOU CONNECT WITH PEOPLE IN
WEST VIRGINIA AND YOU'RE WITH
THEM FOR THREE YEARS AND THEY
STICK WITH YOU BECAUSE THEY'RE
360 DEGREES AND
THREE-DIMENSIONAL PEOPLE.
IS THERE ONE CHARACTER THAT'S
STUCK WITH YOU AFTER THE FILM?
>> OH, WELL, THERE ARE REALLY
TWO MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE FILM
WHO STILL HAVE STUCK WITH ME AND
THAT'S DR. GUPTA AND RANDY
HOFFMAN, THE TWO HEADS OF THE
DEPARTMENT IN WEST VIRGINIA.
YOU KNOW, YOU GET TO KNOW WHEN
YOU ARE FILMING WITH PEOPLE FOR
YEARS.
YOU -- THERE'S THIS WEIRD LINE
YOU WALK BETWEEN FRIENDSHIP AND
SUBJECT AND PARTICULARLY WHEN
THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING
DECISIONS THAT ARE AFFECTING THE
HEALTH OF THE ENTIRE STATE.
AND WHENEVER YOU ARE EDITING,
YOU ARE ALWAYS THINKING, LIKE,
AM I BEING FAIR?
IS THIS REPRESENTATIVE AND
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO MAKE HARD
DECISIONS TO SHOW THAT THINGS
ARE RAPTIVE AND I THINK YOU SEE
THAT AT THE END OF THE FILM.
>> THOSE ARE TWO GUYS THAT STUCK
WITH ME AND I KNOW THEY WILL
WITH YOURS AND I'M NOT GOING TO
GIVE ANYTHING AWAY.
ONE THAT STARTED OUT WITH A GOOD
GUY, AND THE OTHER THAT TARTED
OUT AS A BAD GUY REDEEMS
HIMSELF.
IT'S A WONDERFUL STORY IN AND OF
ITSELF.
>> IT HAS A NARRATIVE FEELING TO
IT, I THINK.
YEAH.
YOU SEE THESE TWO CHARACTERS
KIND OF CROSS AND HOW THE SYSTEM
CHANGES PEOPLE.
>> COLIN, IT'S A WONDERFUL FILM
AND THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING
IT AND THANK YOU FOR JOINING US
TODAY.
>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
>> THE INDEPENDENT LENS
DOCUMENTARY "WHAT LIES UPSTREAM"
IS AT 10:00 P.M. ON PBS AND
CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS FOR
ADDITIONAL VIEWING
OPPORTUNITIES.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, and Judy and Josh Weston.

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