The stories told in three documentaries that will be shown this weekend in the Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival each describe people struggling against corporate power to preserve their way of life.
Two of the films address local responses to issues that Donegal faces or could face: “Windfall” (USA, 2010), about a community in upstate New York divided by plans to erect industrial wind turbines; and “The Pipe” (Ireland, 2010), about the ongoing struggle of members of the Rossport community against Shell Oil. The third, “Wiebo’s War” (Canada, 2011), tells the complex story of the Ludwig family, who built their Christian community in the Canadian wilderness, only to find their farm lay on top of one of the continent’s largest undeveloped natural gas fields.
Guth Gafa will screen nearly 30 documentaries from June 10-14 in the Gaeltacht village of Gort an Choirce. The directors of the films also attend, to participate in audience question-and-answer sessions and other discussions.
“The Pipe” and “Windfall” allow the people of the affected communities tell their stories. In the Rossport story, people whose names have become familiar from years of news coverage speak of their concerns for their health, their livelihood and their way of life, if the high-pressure pipe is brought through their scenic coastal community and the waters where their fishermen have fished for generations. There is dramatic footage of Garda response to local protests, with scenes of Garda batons being raised and brought down.
“It’s just how sad it is to see these guards beating local people and pushing local people against rocks – people they know and people they know are harmless people,” said Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport 5, the local men jailed for three months in 2005 after blocking pipeline construction.
“It can never be the same,” he said. “There’s a mark left in the community that can never be healed.”
In the same way, the town of Meredith, New York, was torn apart after wind energy producers began scouting suitable sites for turbines. Some landowners signed contracts; many did not. One couple signed but pulled out of the contract after researching the 400-foot-high turbines and the reports of their impact on the health of people living nearby. Some of the information opponents to the turbines uncovered is startling, as are the scenes of a turbine that caught fire and another that collapsed.
The unhappy neighbours of a wind farm in another New York community, one that has grown to hold nearly 200 turbines, also discuss the process that was just beginning in Meredith.
“Windfall” director Laura Israel told the Wall Street Journal: “What I would want people to do is research it and look at it critically.”
“Wiebo’s War” tells a more complicated story. After the wells begin operating in the area, the Ludwigs found their animals aborting. Several women at their farm miscarried, and both children and adults reported other health problems. When someone began setting explosives at well sites, suspicion fell on the Ludwigs, whose farm is built on top of the gas field.
“Windfall” will be screened at 3 pm on Friday, June 10, and 3pm on Saturday, June 11; “The Pipe” will be screened at 1 pm on Monday, June 13; and “Wiebo’s War” will be screened at 6.30 pm on Sunday, June 12, and 5 pm on Monday, June 13.
The directors of “The Pipe” and “Wiebo’s War” will take part in the discussion “Small Actions vs. Big Powers, moderated by Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty Ireland, at 4.45 pm on Tuesday, June 14; and the director of “Wiebo’s War” will take part in the panel “Guth Gafa Debate: Terrorism on Trial” at 6.30 pm on June 13.
The full Guth Gafa schedule is available at www.guthgafa.com.