I usually joke that when I was growing up, while all my friends were playing in the dirt, I was at the library, where my mother would take me to check out books, watch movies and take part in crafts classes. This isn’t entirely true. I did occasionally play in the dirt like everyone else, and my friends occasionally went to the library like I did. I’m glad I was introduced to books and films and art so early, but I’m extremely glad I didn’t spend too much time in that dirt. Like all dirt, it had a past. In Jersey City’s case, not a very good one.
Jersey City, for more than a half century, was one of the nation’s largest processors of chromium ore. Waste had to go somewhere, and according to a 2006 New York Times article, “Millions of tons of residue from three plants were used to fill in wetlands and construction sites all over the city and in nearby towns. Besides forming the former (Roosevelt) drive-in’s foundation, the hazardous material lies beneath stores, houses, schools, even the municipal incinerator.”
The article also reminds us that the residue waste, “In its most dangerous form — called hexavalent chromium … can cause cancer and other health problems.”
Jersey City has been studying the impact of this waste, and trying to clean it up, ever since the mid-80s, and residents are angry. I remember being a young teenager and reading story after story of chromium residue being discovered in the yards of people’s homes. It was pretty scary.
No one has to convince me then, that DIRT! The Movie — screening for free as part of our ITVS Community Cinema series at the downtown Nashville Library on Saturday, March 20 at 3:00 p.m. — is an important film.
Inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, DIRT! The Movie explores how industrial farming, mining and — in Jersey City’s case — urban development have led us toward cataclysmic droughts, starvation, floods and disease. Dirt is a part of everything we eat, drink and breathe, assert the filmmakers, and who could argue with that? The way we treat it, means everything.
So in essence, treating someone like dirt should be, well, a compliment.
DIRT! The Movie is the perfect complement to any environmental impact or food supply documentary you may have seen in the last couple of years, especially Food, Inc.. Even if you didn’t grow up playing in potentially chromium waste infested soil, and instead spent your time making toilet-paper-roll-and-wax-paper musical instruments (I don’t know why that particular craft sticks out in my mind), you’ll want to join us downtown on March 20, together with our partners EarthMatters Tennessee, Food Security Partners, SustainVU, and the Metro Beautification and Environment Commission. Come early at 2:30 for a little pre-screening reception.