Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Documentaries: The Greening of Southie & The Return of The Cuyahoga

Set your remotes to Green. Two new documentaries are being broadcasted on TV in the next few days, and they are both worth watching.

The Return of The Cuyahoga

Produced and directed by Lawrence R. Hott and Diane Garey, The Return of The Cuyahoga, follows the history of the Cuyahoga river, which means "crooked river" in the Iroquois language, from it's pristine pre-western settlement. It follows its transformation by the hands of man, becoming an incredibly polluted waterway as part of Cleveland's industrial glory, and to it's slow and on-going rehabilitation in recent decades.

In the collective environmental memory, the Cuyahoga is remembered as “The River that Burned” in 1969, and is often mentioned as one of the strong symbols that helped birth the environmental movement in the United States. It was back then that a collection of industrial debris at the foot of a bridge was sparked into fire by a passing train carrying molten steel, and the national outcry brought about eventually the federal Clean Water Act of 1972.

The film follows that history and outlines present day restoration efforts and is truly a hopeful picture overall.

The Return of The Cuyahoga airs on PBS nationally tomorrow April 18th, 10pm (check your local listings)

The Greening of Southie

Yes, we mentioned this documentary already but now that I've watched it I just can't help recommending it again.

This is one FUN film to watch! The content grin begins from the first few sequences that show bewildered construction workers grappling the idea of a green building, and the smile just broadens when the music kicks in. I have to say that green or no green, this is one well made film. The soundtrack is excellent, the editing is smart, and the shots are just gorgeous. And I don't think it is usually an easy feat to make a gorgeous film about a construction site. Yes, The Greening of Southie is essentially a documentation of the four year building process of a certified green luxury condominium complex called the Macallan Building.

The building's developer decided to go for the “Gold” LEED standard of green building, the first green certified building in Boston. The film is a subtle critique of what happens when such a luxurious, expensive and ambitious green project is started top-down at the heart of an old working class Boston neighborhood. Many local working class union members are on site, and they will never be able to afford a condo... green or not. There's a lot of goodwill, good works, confusion and a steep learning curve for all involved.

So what happens when the non toxic floor boards glue is not strong enough and the sustainably grown bamboo floorboards, imported from mainland China, become unglued? Why transport bamboo from China anyway and is it the right thing to do from a green point of view? Is this green building bringing gentrification to southie? All these questions and more are being dealt with in the film.

The film's subtlety is its strength, but also its only weakness. It shows all angles but delves into none. Yet the variety of points of view highlights the complexity and challenges of “going green” in a real life mainstream development setting. Overall a great green documentary you should not miss.

The Greening of Southie airs first on Earth Day, Tuesday April 22, 9:35 PM on the Sundance Channel.

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