On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

21 Nov

October 16, 2017 | Oil & Water | Bloomsburg, PA

The Road to Bloomsburg

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The Road to Bloomsburg, PA is both beautiful and blighted, with breathtaking views of rivers and forests, as well as vivid reminders of an energy industry that is dead, dying, or fraught.

The route winds through Schuylkill County to Ashland, a crumbling coal town that announces itself from a sign on the chain-link fence surrounding a football field. The “Ashland Black Diamonds” won the Pennsylvania state high school football champions back in 1935. I was struck by the sight, as Oil & Water features footage of a similar athletic field in a poor Ecuadorian oil town, only there the sign on the fence says “Bienvenido” (welcome), with a smiling oil drop mascot.

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Grayish buildings and weathered banners bearing the photos of war veterans line the full length of the main road through town. Ashland’s glory days ended with the Great Depression and the coal mine was closed. Just north of Ashland lies Centralia, an abandoned and polluted town where an underground mine fire has burned since 1962.

From there, the road winds through lushly forest hills to Bloomsburg on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Bloomsburg is an oasis made up of tidy homes and businesses in a valley that looks up the hill to stately Bloomsburg University. Here I was welcomed by Civic Engagement Coordinator Tim Pelton. Tim is the affable former editor of a leading scuba diving magazine, who has stories to tell about working with Jacque Cousteau as well as film crews from the James Bond franchise. Before the screening we chatted about the state of the journalism profession (I’m a former newspaper reporter) and the other environmental films he brings to the university.

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Tim Pelton (left) and Francine Strickwerda

Tim facilitated an engaging discussion with Bloomsburg students and local community members who asked smart, heartfelt questions following the screening of Oil & Water. One audience member wanted to know what I got personally from my experience directing Oil & Water. Filmmaking allows me to explore and find meaning, especially in dark places. With Hugo and David’s story we shined a light on a terrible injustice and saw hope for the future; something we all need. Further, sharing that story in person with communities like Bloomsburg increases the impact and grows connections, and that is awesome.

While my trip to the university was too brief, Tim’s warmth and the earnest interest showed by audience members left an impression. I was buoyed by the people I met and their concern for the world around them, from their own backyard, all the way to Ecuador. As I drove away from the town, toward my next stop on the tour, I wound back past Ashland, the rivers, and the trees.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Francine Strickwerda

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