Company Town (NR)

Documentary 90 min. September 8, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
“Everybody in my neighborhood that I know of in the last 40 years died from cancer,” says a resident of Crossett, Arkansas, at a public hearing captured in the blood-boiling doc Company Town. The man continues: “I’m the only one left on that street.” That street cuts close to Crossett’s Georgia-Pacific mill, which pumps out 45 million gallons of wastewater a day, much into ponds and streams. The Ouachita River, which wends past the mill, blackens at Crossett. Local doctors, a resident tells us, describe the coughing and congestion common to the area as “the Crossett crud”; another resident reports being paid by the mill’s owners to bury “feet and feet and feet of poison” near the mill underneath 4 to 6 inches of dirt. Tests confirm a high proximity of toxic chemicals in the water, and Simone Smith, an elementary-school girl, has cancer.

The filmmakers establish all this through old-fashioned journalism: They show up, talk to people and film the poisoned life of Crossett, population 5,500. But the town is up against the heaviest of heavies: The mill is owned by Koch Industries. The film becomes bumbling tragicomedy when EPA officials (from the Office of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs) arrive in 2013 to survey the damages. They smile, look concerned, but make no promises. They have so little power that one suggests that the best way to take on Koch is “to kill ’em with kindness” because “you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.” It all ends in a Flint-like muddle, with no serious action taken to protect America’s poorest communities.
Natalie Kottke, Erica Sardarian David Bouie, Cheryl Slavant, Wilma Subra Natalie Kottke, Erica Sardarian First Run Features

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