Fenceline

FENCELINE: A COMPANY TOWN DIVIDED
Help Support Independent Film!
Make A Tax Deductible Donation

About Film

Awarded Best Feature Documentary by the Environmental Media Association

…Emmy Award-winning producer-director Slawomir Grunberg’s exploration of the environmental struggle between industry…and the people of Norco, LA…the documentary allows both communities to speak their minds.
The Washington Post

…thoughtfully examines the role of economics in the struggle between industry and environment.
Los Angeles Times

Documentary about the split among residents of Norco, LA, over possible links between illness and the local Sheil Oil refinery.
New York Times

“Fenceline” follows the story of Margie Richard, who claims that her African American community is suffering adverse health effects, due to the chemical emissions of a neighboring plant owned by the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company. The town of Norco, Louisiana which derives its name from the New Orleans Refining Company, is divided between those who consider Shell a fair neighbor that carefully monitors it’s chemical emissions and the all-black Diamond Community. As a result of Shell’s industrial expansion, the size of the Diamond Community has been reduced to four streets that extend from the plant’s fence line. Chemicals that have been identified in the air in the Norco community include Benzene, which is known to cause cancer in humans; Epychlor Hydron, which is a suspected human cancer causing agent and has been linked to testicular dysfunction; and Toluene, Ethyl Benzene and Sulfur Compounds, which are all linked to birth defects. Out of concern that these chemicals are aversely affecting their health, the Diamond Community has been asking Shell to relocate them.

The rest of Norco is a mainly white community that owes its existence to the petrochemical industry. Like many residents, Vicky Reneau has lived in Norco her entire life and is fiercely proud of this company town. Her father, Kirby, spent 40 years working for Shell and the family grew up enjoying the benefits associated with being part of the “Shell family” – free access to the company swimming pool, bowling alley, theater, and golf course. Along with the country club lifestyle, Shell employees enjoy some of the highest wages in the area. Vicky points out that in addition to generous employee benefits which support the local economy, the company makes many contributions to the community. Shell sponsors a Christmas present give away, offers Thanksgiving turkeys to the needy, and sends employees into local schools to teach students about the importance of industry. The Reneau family believes industry has brought nothing but benefits to Norco, and that those who want to be relocated are opportunists looking for a handout. To allegations by the Diamond Community that chemical emissions by Shell are responsible for health problems, Vickie responds that Shell carefully monitors it’s emissions and that any problems Diamond residents have are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle.

At the request of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Shell was obliged to inform the community about the emission levels of the chemicals they release. According to Shell’s chemical monitors, the plant is not exceeding federal regulations on emission levels. With the help of an independent chemist, Wilma Subra, the Diamond Community also began collecting air samples using an EPA approved bucket. The so-called “bucket brigade” recorded that, on certain occasions, the Shell plant was releasing chemicals in quantities that did exceed federal limits.

“Fenceline: A Company Town Divided” hopes to offer the viewer an appreciation of the delicate balance between industry and environmental rights, without promoting a particular viewpoint. The questions this film addresses offer the viewer even-handed insight into a topic of national interest. With interviews of people from a wide spectrum of disciplines such as: industry experts, industry workers, environmentalists and local community members, this documentary juxtaposes misconceptions about the role of industry in polluting the environment against scientific facts. By airing this program on national television and providing outreach initiatives to extend the value of the documentary in classrooms and the public sphere, we hope to bridge the gap between environmentalists and industry advocates.

Credits

Produced by:
Slawomir Grunberg
Jane Greenberg
Independent Television Service
LogTV Limited – Non Profit Organization

Directed by:
Slawomir Grunberg

Editor:
Brian Truglio

Assistant Editor:
William Doll

Photography:
Slawomir Grunberg

Sound:
Brian Truglio

Associate Producer:
Brian Truglio

Assistant Editor:
William Doll

Additional Sound:
Jane Greenberg

Post-Production Associate:
William Doll

Still Photography:
Thom Scott

Closed Captioning:
Pillar to Post

Interns:
Antonio Andrade, Claudia de Macedo Davis, Lyla Miller, Rachel Smith & Carolyn Tennant

Consultants:
Dr. Paul Templet, Prof. Oliver Houck, Prof. Elaine Leeder, Dr. Frederick Kaufman & Dr. Marlene Barken

Screenings and Awards

SCREENINGS

• True Stories: Life In the USA: screenings at public television stations in developing countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, ITVS presentation, 2005-06

• Bioneers Moving Image Festival, Santa Fe, NM, 2006
POV and Amnesty International series: MA, CT, NJ, NY, RI schools and university Northeast screenings, 2005

• The Second National Summit on Equitable Development,

• Social Justice, and Smart Growth, Philadelphia, 2005

• Big Muddy Film Festival, Carbondale, IL 2005

• Festival International du Film de l’Environnement (FIFE), Kairouan, Tunesia 2004

• Environmental film festival in Accra, Ghana 2004

• Environmental Madia Award Festival, San Francisco, 2003

• P.O.V. season on PBS National Broadcast – USA 2002

• Directing Documentary Workshop, Ireland, April 2002

• Community Screening, Norco, LA, May 2002

• University Film and Video Association Conference, August 2002

• Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc., New York City, October 2002

• Bioneers Conference, San Rafael, CA, October 2002

• Cinema on the Edge Fall Series, Ithaca College, October 2002

• Brazil “Documenta”, Rio, November 2001

AWARDS

• Best Documentary Feature, 2003 Environmental Media Association Awards

• Best in Category (Environmental Issues), Vermont International Film Festival

• Certificate of Merit, San Francisco International Film Festival

• John Michaels Memorial Award, Big Muddy Film Festival

• Platinum Award (News & Documentary), Worldfest, Houston

Official Selection

• Memphis International Film Festival

• Cinefeuille Film Festival

• Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival

• Athens International Film and Video Festival

• The Malibu Film Festival

• Seoul Independent Documentary Festival, Korea

• The Peace and Human Security Media Festival, New York City

• Hope and Dreams Film Festival

• Okomedia Film Festival, Germany

• Ekofilm, Czech Republic

• 9th International Festival of Health Films, France

• XII Prix Leonardo, Parma, Italy

• Planet In Focus, Toronto, Canada

Broadcast History

• True Stories: Life In the USA: screenings at public television stations in developing countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, ITVS presentation, 2005-06

• P.O.V. – PBS, Public Broadcast Stations, 2002

Reviews and Reactions

Press Reviews

…Emmy Award-winning producer-director Slawomir Grunberg’s exploration of the environmental struggle between industry… and the people of Norco, LA… the documentary allows both communities to speak their minds.
– The Washington Post – This Week’s Pick, July 22, 2002

…thoughtfully examines the role of economics in the struggle between industry and environment…
– Los Angeles Times, Josh Friedman, July 22, 2002

READ MORE

Documentary about the split among residents of Norco, LA, over possible links between illness and the local Shell Oil refinery.
– New York Times – Highlights, July 23, 2002

…a compelling film…a careful portrayal of race, class and pollution in Louisiana, the documentary goes beyond the controversy itself… Fenceline takes us into the homes of both black and white residents as they view TV news reports out of New Orleans on the roiling controversy in their hometown. By turning its cameras on the local TV news media coverage, Fenceline shows how the news affects those closest to the issue.
– Gambit Weekly – July 16, 2002

Fenceline… looks at race, toxic pollution, a company town in that portion of the Mississippi Delta known as Cancer Alley, where Shell petrochemicals, pouring out of smokestacks, make lovely sunsets and asthmatic coughing fits.
– New York Magazine – John Leonard – July 22, 2002

The documentary was an excellent example of what a community can do when it works together…the film actually is a true reflection how the community around the refinery actually feels.
– Joanne Rossi, CLRTC President

…It’s like some science-fiction movie… I knew that those plants were built on former plantations. That was something that stayed in my head for many years…
– S. Grunberg, from an interview w/David Walker

The (POV) films comes from committed filmmakers who are in communities where these issues are playing out… In a lot of ways POV is reflecting the issues that are going on in our society…
– Cara Mertes, Executive Director of POV

Slawomir Grunberg and Jane Greenberg’s Fenceline: A Company Town Divided reveals two communities in Norco, Louisiana: the African-Americans who think the pollution from the local refinery is responsible for their health problems, and the white community who disagree.
– Film and Tape World – June 2002

This program – which aired on PBS’s P.O.V. series – would be an excellent and unique addition to collections with an interest in environmental issues. Highly recommended.
– Video Librarian – November 2002

Audience Reactions

Please forward this to whoever accepted the film for broadcast, and to ITVS and POV. “Fenceline” is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen on PBS this season. Terrific camerawork, character selection, storytelling, writing and editing. Beautiful film. Thank you. In the spirit tradition of Barbara Kopple before she sold out (or wearied). May you not tire of telling empowering stories and showing clearly the forces of resistance. What a courageous woman Richards is! Your scene selection was just right. Thank you to all the execs at PBS and ITVS, POV and funders who supported and made this possible.
– Diane Hendrix, Streaming Productions

READ MORE

If I were you I’d enter every prize competition on the planet. I found Fenceline to be exceptionally well balanced in its presentation of a thorny problem which faces corporate America and its local communities. I looked in vain for a bad guy to hate. It would have been easy to hate the polluting corporation(s) but your fair presentation of the dilemma they face made that somewhat difficult. You made telling point of the pollution itself but by highlighting the complexity of the problem you pushed us in the direction of rational thought about the problem rather than flaring emotion. Moreover, your superb camera work (some of it downright visual poetry)… seamless editing and sound as well … gave the presentation an extremely engaging feel as the suspense (despite the last sentence of your intro) mounted. We knew (felt) at the outset that things might be better in the end but we didn’t know how much better. It was a pleasure to root for this classy underdog. And as I say, the very high productio n values made it especially delightful… as a learning experience and as art appreciation. Most important of course is the level of success you have reached in the essential business of the documentary: important truth revealed. From the warm intimacy of our look at the folks on both sides to the belching flumes and that wrenching shot of the black crap stirred up in the water of the bayou, you have indeed revealed some important truth.
– Bob Earle

I watched the documentary on PBS on 7/23. I grew up in Lutcher Louisiana in the 60’s and early 70’s and remember smelling the chemicals from the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Gramercy. As a little girl I use to wonder what the orange residue was that came out of those plants and why everyone’s car was orange or rusted. As an adult and living out in Inglewood Calif. I wonder what long term effects those chemicals had on the residents there. I lost my grandmother to Cancer in 1974, who lived in Lutcher. I am really happy and pleased that someone like Margie was able to keep fighting. She is a very strong woman.(most Louisiana women are) It was also wonderful to know that someone like yourselves helped also. I think those little towns are so out of touch sometimes and people just settle for whatever is told to them. I read an article in “Essence” magazine about “Cancer Alley” and it was so sad. Thanks for this wonderful documentary. It made me aware of what is still happening in a place I will forever call home. I live in California but I still have relatives and friends in those little small towns. If I was able I would have fought right there with them. Thank you again. Wonderful.
– JSUDD194@aol.com

I saw your program and loved it. Great job. The politics and social condition of this situation brought me back to my childhood in rural Louisiana in the 60’s. Thank you for using such great care in presenting the issues and story.
– Bert Bertrand Reed, Cornell University

Fenceline was outstanding …. our entire office viewed it and we look forward to seeing more work like this… director and his crew did a wonderful job explaining both sides of the fenceline…
– Submitted to ITVS

I wanted to make known that the documentary on Margie Richards and the Fenceline protest was very exemplary and moving. To know that for once in a long while a Black voice was heard without entertaining someone. It seems that every time a Black person has issues the response is always to confuse the issue with a bunch of dumb divisive remarks that cloud the issues in order to not respond at all. In other words, companies never ever want to admit they are wrong. It seemed that no matter how much proof Ms. Richards had she was never validated even when she went to visit the Home office of the Royal Dutch. It sickened me see how they laughed at her mere presence and the way they sneered at her trying to make her feel ridiculous. …Please tell Margie, many thanks for not giving up, she has greatly inspired me, forever.
– Submitted to POV

…it was great they need an Erin Brockevitch (or Julia Roberts). I hope you film can make a difference it seems as if it already has, just by the fact that you were making such a film probably got the community the attention it needed to get the company off it’s butt…
– Pamela Poitier, Bahamas

…I watch a lot of shows throughout the year — yours was one of the rare ones that made me think — “that’s the kind of thing I’d like to do.” Excellent work, …your doc is something I would watch more than once and enjoy each time. It’s more than a report, it is a true documentary.
– David Murdock, Washington DC

I am so impressed by folks who try to make a difference in their lives and those they care for; and the lady who was leading the fight did so calmly, intelligently, courageously, and without seeming to be militant. You just presented the facts in both cases without taking sides. Of course I suppose that is really what a documentary is supposed to do. …The program was fantastic. The photography was wonderful. It was like a history lesson for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A friend of mine came over to view it with me. He and I would get up and dance every time Tony’s music played.
– Juliet Drenning, New Orleans

I saw Fenceline on POV this week – very well done -tight – good editing – inspiring and motivating – I liked the music. I lived in Texas for 8 years and poor air quality and illness contributed to all the refineries was always a contentious subject. People would say that the brilliant orange/red setting sun was due to all the refinery pollution in the air and not to natural beauty – scared me!!!
– Judith Kubran, New York City

Wonderful documentary………everyone who has seen it really enjoyed and learned a lot.
– Ray Coffman, New Orleans