Arts & Culture

The Portland EcoFilm Festival hits the road for the 1st time -- and lands in Olympia

Stacey Ryan is the hero of the environmental documentary “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall,” about environmental racism in Louisiana.
Stacey Ryan is the hero of the environmental documentary “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall,” about environmental racism in Louisiana. Courtesy photo

Stacey Ryan, the hero of the environmental documentary “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall,” lives in an isolated trailer surrounded by petrochemical plants in the small town of Mossville, Louisiana.

“We’re in beautiful downtown Mossville,” Ryan says in the film, which will be shown Sunday in Olympia as part of a weekend of screenings from the Portland EcoFilm Festival. “Population: one.”

Much of Mossville was uprooted like the trees on Ryan’s property, but the middle-aged father would not be moved, even though he lost both parents to cancer, suffers from multiple health problems and saw his land rezoned heavy industrial, leaving him without access to running water, a sewer system or electricity.

The film — which was named the best feature film at the Portland festival and has received numerous other awards — uses Ryan’s story to shed light on environmental racism in Louisiana and around the world.

“The story is much bigger than you see on screen,” producer Daniel Bennett, who grew up in Mossville, told The Olympian.

After persisting for years after a buyout cleared most of his neighborhood, Stacey Ryan finally left under increasing pressure from Sasol, a South African company building a plant in Mossville.

But the story of the town, founded in the 1800s by formerly enslaved people looking for a safe place to live amid the violence of Reconstruction, isn’t over yet.

“There are people still fighting,” said Bennett, a photographer who lives in nearby Lake Charles. “There are community members who are on the ground protesting.”

Among them are his parents, who still own property in the town though they no longer live there.

The risks of living near massive chemical plants continue to be part of Bennett’s everyday reality. “The best way to describe it is that it’s only a matter of time before the next spill,” he said.

The filmmakers aim to raise awareness about the impact of these plants on black communities and to encourage people to get involved.

Bennett said he was surprised that there are people who don’t know what’s happening.

“I want to get this film in front of people who aren’t activists,” he said. “I want to get it in front of people who have no idea. It is visually impactful, and it is jarring.”

Portland EcoFilm Festival in Olympia

  • What: The acclaimed environmental film festival produced by Portland’s Hollywood Theatre comes to Olympia. It’s the festival’s first-ever out-of-town engagement.
  • When: Friday through Sunday, Nov. 8-10
  • Where: Capitol Theater, 205 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
  • Tickets: $15, $12 for Olympia Film Society members, $8 for children 10 and younger
  • More information: 360-754-6670,

The films

“The Wild” (6:30 p.m. Friday), followed by a filmmaker discussion and a virtual-reality experience, chronicles the efforts to stop an open-pit copper mine that would disrupt the prodigious salmon run in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” (9 p.m. Friday) is a portrait of the Oscar-winning composer and activist, whose work is inspired by the environment.

“Hike the Divide: A Conversation About Climate Action on the Continental Divide Trail” (4 p.m. Saturday) follows the journey of a jaded millennial hiking the trail in search of hope and inspiration in the face of climate change.

Eco-Shorts (6:30 p.m. Saturday) includes some of the EcoFilm Festival’s best short films.

“Kurosawa’s Dreams” (9 p.m. Saturday), a 1990 film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, focuses on the natural world and the cycle of life through eight of the filmmaker’s recurring dreams.

“Queen Without Land” (2:30 p.m. Sunday) tells the true story of a polar bear’s life in an age when the glaciers are melting.

“An Island in the Continent” (5 p.m. Sunday) takes viewers on a trip through Baja California, Mexico, a peninsula whose wonders include cave paintings and the threatened Sierra de la Laguna biosphere reserve.

“Mossville: When Great Trees Fall” (7:30 p.m. Sunday) tells the story of the tiny Louisiana town of Mossville, a community founded by formerly enslaved people and all but dismantled by an influx of chemical plants.