Resilience and hope for the future

I visited coastal Mississippi for the first time ten years ago. A friend I knew in Boston, Derrick Evans, had invited me to visit Turkey Creek, where his ancestors had settled after the Civil War. Soon he was drawn into a new life in Mississippi, and I was drawn into making a film about the struggle to protect Turkey Creek against urban sprawl, industrial contamination and disaster.

As the years went on, Derrick became connected to a web of community leaders facing similar battles across the coast. Many voiced the need to tell their stories. In 2009 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation offered support for the Turkey Creek film and what became Bridge the Gulf. The project has been developed over the past year in partnership with the Gulf Coast Fund. We were planning to launch the Web site in advance of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and then the BP oil disaster occurred.

In interviews I videotaped earlier this year, before the BP spill, community leaders from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama painted a picture of a region that was facing overwhelming challenges: coastal land loss was swallowing communities and cultures, whole neighborhoods were contaminated by industrial pollution; people were living in temporary and substandard housing five years after Hurricane Katrina.

Despite all this, there was, in every interview, a strong sense of resilience and hope for the future. These are people who have dedicated themselves to protecting what they love about the culture and environment of their Gulf Coast communities. You can find excerpts from these interviews on our Story Map.

I’m also contributing footage that Turkey Creek field producer ReMale James shot in 2008 with someone who has been an important voice in the wake of the BP disaster. Louisiana Bayoukeeper Mike Roberts took ReMale and Derrick out in his boat to show them how canals dredged by the oil industry had accelerated coastal land loss in Louisiana, turning farms and prairie into ocean. Mike and his wife Tracy Kuhns will be in an upcoming video shot in June for Bridge the Gulf.

LEAH MAHAN has been working on documentary films since 1988, when her life was changed by an internship with filmmaker Henry Hampton on the Eyes on the Prize series about the civil rights movement.  She recently received a Sundance Documentary Fund grant and will complete her documentary about Turkey Creek in 2011.

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