Crying Earth Rise Up

Crying Earth Rise Up is a compelling story of the human cost of uranium mining and its impact on the water, land and people of the Great Plains. When Debra White Plume’s drinking water tests high for radiation, she sets out to determine the cause. What she finds alarms her.

  • Suree Towfighnia
  • Courtney Hermann
  • Suree Towfighnia
  • Debra White Plume
  • Sharon Karp
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    56 minutes 46 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 30, 2015
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Suree Towfighnia

Suree Towfighnia is a director, producer, DP, and documentary educator from Chicago, IL. Her company, Prairie Dust Films, directed Standing Silent Nation which was broadcast on POV and garnered many awards in competitions and festivals. Suree recently produced the Haskell Wexler documentary Four Days in Chicago. Suree's thesis, Tampico, about a Chicago street performer, won the Studs Terkel Award for Community Media. As a documentary educator, Suree teaches at universities, for non-profits and internationally at EICTV film school in Cuba; and in artis integration programs with the Chicago Public Schools (project AIM) and Chicago hospitals (Snow City Arts). She began the Lakota Media Project (LMP) in 2003 to train Lakota girls and women dedicated to telling their own documentary stories. Suree has been working on documentary and community building since 1997.

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Director Statement

We first became aware of contaminated drinking water on Pine Ridge during the making of our feature, Standing Silent Nation. Alex and Debra White Plume were concerned when their water tested high for radiation and contaminants. At the time, we had been working and living with the family on and off for over 8 years and we were concerned about their future welfare.

When you look around at the beautiful land and witness the ways water creates and connects life, it's easy to understand the impact that contaminated water has on life. I would ask Debra questions—“What if we boil it?" And she would respond, "If you boil it, the radiation is released in the air." " What about a filter?" “You can’t filter out the alpha emitters.” The situation seemed grave.

As we finished editing on Standing Silent Nation, we kept abreast on the water story. Then Debra discovered a uranium mine that was tapping into their aquifer to extract raw uranium. People were getting sick and dying quickly of illnesses previously uncommon. Someone I knew, who worked at the local college and made videos, died of kidney disease. I couldn't believe a man so young was taken so quickly. And then I found out his water tested high for contaminants.

I never intended to start a documentary about uranium mining, or to tell the story of people fighting to protect their water, but the film called to us. Particularly when I met Elisha Yellow Thunder, a very driven and articulate geology student. We went to an ore outcrop to test uranium content. When asked what motivated her to research uranium, she shared her story. During her pregnancy she drank contaminated water. This resulted in birth defects and medical abnormalities that threatened her daughter Laila’s life from day one. My commitment to the film solidified. We recognized we were in a unique position to tell an important story and couldn’t leave it behind.

While Standing Silent Nation documents a family’s dream to live sustainably through industrial hemp cultivation, Crying Earth Rise Up chronicles a uranium nightmare enhanced by mining companies who threaten our most precious resource—water.

A documentary pulls both the heart and mind toward the story, making it impossible to let it go until it is wrapped and shared with audiences to create change. We live in a world where 40-50% of our energy comes from nuclear sources, so uranium mining impacts all of us. Flipping a light switch powered by nuclear energy makes you wonder where that uranium comes from? Mines in Nebraska or South Dakota?

As Bruce Ellison clearly states in the film, until companies can prove that mining is safe, they shouldn’t be allowed to operate in our communities. Our humble hope is to help reset the energy compass to focus on people over profits. And more specifically and urgently, Crying Earth Rise Up aims to increase awareness about the timely and critical need to protect the water. Mni wicozani, through water there is life. We hope our characters inspire audiences to recognize that each of us can make a difference—it is up to all of us to generate positive change.

--Suree Towfighnia