Our newest collaboration with renowned poet Lucy English combines footage shot on location In Cancer Alley with images of nature, especially cypress groves, which are as fragile and as threatened as the Cancer Alley communities. The visuals are accompanied by a poem about what it is like to live in the small towns near the Mississippi River, between East Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which are now dominated by more than 200 chemical plants and oil refineries, sometimes literally located in residents' back yards. The cypress trees can live for more than 1000 years, if they are not chopped down for cypress mulch or their habitat destroyed. Human lifespans are much shorter, but we may not survive as a species unless we stop living as if all that matters is today, and learn to think on the time scale of the trees.
Text of the poem by Lucy English:
When we came here in nineteen fifty two
we walked from the train. The plantation corn
swayed in the fields like on the road to paradise.
Our tin roof was rusty but we had a good meal each day.
The night air smelled of dry grass and sugar.
A sky of stars wheeled over my porch.
I miss the gravel roads and those quiet nights.
I don’t sit outside now. The chemicals fall
in yellow raindrops. I can’t hear the cicadas
over the hum of the machines.
The water tastes like oil. The air burns my throat.
Yesterday morning in my yard were three dead crows.
There’s thirty petrochemical plants outside St Gabriel.
One hundred and fifty between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
If we stay we get sick, if we move away, die.
My mother, sister, brother all died of cancer.
The chemical chloroprene makes fancy wetsuits,
but on bad days I put my head in the fridge to breathe.
The Great River Road's built on the bodies of slaves.
This chemical corridor is now the new burden.
They promised us jobs but we never saw them.
The pollution’s in our eyes and the air smells plastic.
We have a right to clear water, and a standard of living.
My peach tree died and the leaves went black.
Everything that lives has its own rules.
The living forest is the world of dreams.
The natural world is only one half.
We understand the world through our living dreams.
We need to dream a different future.
We need to fight to dream a fairer life.
Technology tells us we are alive.
If we are aware why do we do nothing?
The past, the present and the future;
we have to align ourselves to all of these.
We are the forest. We are the future.
The living forest is the world of dreams.
The poem was written specifically for this film, and was inspired by a reel of images we sent Lucy after our first shooting trip to Cancer Alley, along with a shooting diary we wrote during and after.
Biography of Lucy English, poet and author
Lucy English was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in London. She studied English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia, and has an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Digital Writing from Bath Spa University. She has three novels published by Fourth Estate: Selfish People (1998), set in contemporary Bristol; Children of Light (1999); and Our Dancing Days (2000), set in a Suffolk commune in the 1970s. She is best known as a performance poet, first winning the Bristol Poetry Slam in 1996, and going on to tour worldwide, performing her poetry at many international festivals. Her first poetry collection Prayer to Imperfection was published by Burning Eye books in March 2014. She co-ordinated the International Conference in the writing and practice of performance poetry at Bath Spa University and since then ran the first performance poetry module at a UK university. In 2006 she was artistic director of Apples and Snakes Poetry Tour, Exposed. In 2007, she was a finalist in the first BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam.
She has toured Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Taiwan with the British Council, running workshops and performances. She has also run workshops for the Arvon Foundation. In 2010-11 she toured the UK with the acclaimed Arts Council sponsored multimedia poetry show Flash and in 2014-5 toured with Count Me In. She is one of the organisers of 'MIX', the conferences in digital writing. She is co-creator of the poetry film organisation Liberated Words, which curates and screens poetry films. She created the digital poetry film project, “The Book of Hours”, which was shortlisted for the New Media Writing Award, and twice long-listed for the Sabotage Awards. Two of the “Book of Hours” films won the first and second prize for the 2018 Atticus Review Videopoem Contest (https://atticusreview.org/winning-entries-of-the-2018-atticus-review-videopoem-contest/), first prize to Kathryn Darnell's “Things I found in the Hedge” and second prize to “Que Es El Amor” by Eduardo Yague. Many of the https://bookofhours.org films have been selected by poetry film festivals, including O’Bheal, Rabbit Heart, Juteback, Zebra, and Athens. She is currently working two new novels.
Jack CochranEditing and sound design
Pamela FalkenbergCinematography and production design
Project Type:Documentary, Experimental, Short, Other
Genres:Eco film, poetry film
Runtime:8 minutes 58 seconds
Completion Date:February 25, 2023
Country of Origin:United States
Country of Filming:United States
Shooting Format:2K and 4K digital video
Pam is an independent filmmaker who received her PhD from the University of Iowa and taught at Northern Illinois University, St.Mary's College, and the University of Notre Dame. She directed the largest student film society in the US while she was at the University of Iowa, and also ran films series for the Snite Museum of Art in South Bend, IN. Her experimental film with Dan Curry, Open Territory, received an individual filmmaker grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as grants from the Center for New Television and the Indiana Arts Council. OT screened at the Pacific Film Archives, as well at numerous film festivals, including the AFI Video Festival, and was nominated for a regional Emmy. Her other films include museum installations, scholarly/academic hybrid works shown at film conferences, and a documentary commissioned by the Peace Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is an occasional contributor to Moving Poems Magazine (http://discussion.movingpoems.com/) and Liberated Words (http://liberatedwords.com/).
Jack is an independent filmmaker who has produced, directed, or shot a variety of experimental and personal projects. As a DP he has extensive experience shooting commercials, independent features, and documentaries. His varied commercial client list includes BMW, Ford, Nissan, Fujifilm, Iomega, Corum Watches, and Forte Hotels. His features and documentaries have shown at the Sundance, Raindance, Telluride, Tribeca, Edinburgh, Chicago, Houston, and Taos film Festivals, winning several honors. His commercials and documentaries have won Silver Lions from Cannes, a BAFTA (British Academy Award), Peabody Awards, and Cable Aces. Some notable credits: Director of Photography on Brian Griffin's Claustrofoamia, Cinematography for Antony Thomas’ Tank Man, Director/Cinematographer of Viento Nocturno, and Cinematographer of Ramin Niami’s feature film Paris. Jack was trained at the University of Iowa Creative Writers Workshop as well as the University of Iowa film studies program.
For over seven years, Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg have been making personal films together again under the name Outlier Moving Pictures. They hope their work will prove worthy of the name: avoiding the usual patterns and approaching their subject matter from the margins (which sounds better than saying that as filmmakers they're oddballs and cranks). Pam and Jack met in graduate school and made films together when they were young. Jack went on to become a professional cinematographer working out of LA and London, while Pam stayed in the Midwest, where she was a college professor and independent filmmaker before dropping out to work in visual display.
Their first film together, "The Cost of Living," based on some of Jack's short poems, screened at several film festivals, including the Buffalo International Film Festival and the Cornwall Film Festival, was nominated for two awards at the 2019 Queens World Festival, and took the award for best experimental film at the 2016 WV FILMmakers Festival. Other short poetry films have screened at the Ò Bhéal Poetry Film Festival (2016, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021), the Juteback Poetry Film Festival (2017, 2018), the Festival Silencio (2017), the Filmpoem Festival (2017), the 6th CYCLOP Videopoetry Festival (2017), the 6th, 7th, and 8th International Video Poetry Festival (Athens Greece), the Hombres Videopoetry Competitition (2019 2020), and the Zebra Poetry Film Festival (2020, 2021). Their most ambitious film, "Teddy Roosevelt and Fracking," about environmental threats to the wild landscapes of North Dakota, premiered at the 2018 Queens World Film Festival, where it was nominated for three awards and took the award for Best Documentary Short, followed by awards at the Go West Film Festival, the Ozark Foothills Film Festival, and the American Presidents Film and Literary Festival at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum. Their most acclaimed film, "The Names of Trees," in collaboration with Lucy English for her Book of Hours project, has screened in more than 40 film festivals in more than 15 countries, has been nominated for awards many times, named a finalist for best poetic film and best short film several times, and won the Lois Weber Pioneer Award at the 2020 Queens World Film Festival, for their complete body of work. Two of their more recent poetry films, "In West Virginia," and "Flag Country," based on poems by Dave Bonta, have screened at the Buffalo International Film Festival, the Small Axe Radical Film Festival, the Newlyn Film Festival, and the North Dakota Human Rights Arts Festival, among others. Pam and Jack recently completed a new triptych with poet Lucy English on climate change, "I Want to Breathe Sweet Air,” which has already received recognition in the US and Internationally. They are currently at work on "Now and Then," an experimental film based on a new collection of Jack's poems; “The Loneliest Road in America” (their first feature together), an experimental road trip/documentary essay about transportation and travel in the American West; and another collaboration with poet Lucy English, about Louisiana’s “Cancer Corridor” and environmental injustice.
.Jack and Pam co-direct the films they make together, and they collaborate fully, even when they divide up the credits. Their poetry films usually start with a poem (often, but not always, one of Jack’s poems), which they think of as analogous to a script. However, when collaborating with Lucy English on “The Shadow” and “The Names of Trees,” the process was more dialectical: some images and sounds came first, then Lucy wrote the poems; the poems inspired more images, and eventually the edited film poems. For us, the exact process depends on the project and remains open to experiment, so our body of work is somewhat disparate and hard to categorize. Some of our eclectic interests include collage, found footage, and repurposing; the film essay and film poetry; image capturing and post-production techniques that reveal what cannot be seen with the eyes alone (e.g., high shutter speeds, moving cameras, infrared photography, green screen and digital layering); the environment, landscapes, and the ways humans mark them; human rights/social justice; and postmodern melodrama.
Jack has written poetry all his life, but he never knew what to do with it until he shared his notebooks with Pam, who said, “You’re a filmmaker -- shouldn’t your poems be films?” Pam and Jack both want to make lots of different kinds of films together, but Pam is especially proud to have been the one who suggested that Jack’s poems should come to life as films. They are both delighted that making films of Jack's poems has led to interesting collaborations with other poets and filmmakers.