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Film festival focuses on WV water crisis

The West Virginia International Film Festival is joining with local filmmakers and environmental groups to hold a special night of films next Tuesday devoted to the January chemical spill that left hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without usable tap water.

Festival president Emmett Pepper said the films shown that night will offer several different perspectives on the chemical leak and the ensuing water crisis, as well as the general importance of clean water.

“I feel like the water crisis has helped bring attention to the importance of water, and it’s a chance for us to reflect on that crisis and think about different stories that have come out of it,” Pepper said.

The night will begin at 6 p.m. at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater on Summers St. with “Watermark,” a documentary that explores humans’ relationship with water and how that relationship has changed over time.

That documentary will be followed by local films including “The Flocking,” a 10-minute animated short about “corruption, companies, chemicals and chickens” produced by Jake Fertig.

The festival also will screen “West Virginia Water Woes,” a short documentary produced by Daily Mail capitol reporter Dave Boucher and filmmaker Elaine McMillion. The video, which was featured on the Daily Mail’s website, provides a look at the 36 hours that followed the chemical leak.

“We’re going to be showing that as an early example of what was happening,” Pepper said.

Other films include “Poisoned: West Virginia Water Crisis,” a film by Keely Kernan; a trailer for “Still Life,” an upcoming film from Johnny St. Ours; a short preview of “Sweet Taste of Freedom,” a documentary by Jason Myer, as well as film clips from an as-yet-untitled film by Krista Bryson.

“Some of these are just works in progress,” Pepper said.

The screening will be followed by a round table discussion with some of the filmmakers, local health officials and representatives from environmental groups.

Pepper said the water-themed screening allows residents to continue the conversation about the water crisis, and also aligns with the film festival’s core mission.

“We want to bring good films that are important to West Virginia,” he said.

The night is co-sponsored by the West Virginia International Film Festival, the West Virginia Citizen’s Action Group, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

Admission is free on Tuesday but donations will be accepted. All proceeds will go to the filmmakers and environmental groups.

The festival also will host the West Virginia premiere of “Surviving Cliffside,” the first major film by Alum Creek native Jon Matthews.

Matthews was once a successful lawyer but, after deciding to become a filmmaker, attended New York University’s film school and now lives in Los Angeles.

“Surviving Cliffside” chronicles the lives of Matthews’ family in Alum Creek, dealing with beauty pageants, drug issues and domestic violence.

“It’s not a bleak film. It’s a film that has a lot of sympathy and empathy for the characters. You really feel like you’re part of their lives,” Pepper said.

The film premiered at South-by-Southwest music and film festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.

“Surviving Cliffside” will play at the West Virginia International Film Festival on Saturday at 5 p.m. and May 16 at 5:45 p.m. Admission to Saturday’s screening is free.

Other films at the festival include:

“Blue Jasmine” — Woody Allen’s latest film tells the story of a rich Manhattan socialite falling into poverty and homelessness. It screens at 7 p.m. on Friday and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17.

“Enough Said” — This 2013 romantic comedy was one of actor James Gandolfini’s final roles. It plays Friday at 9 p.m., Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and May 16 at 7 p.m.

“Wadjda” — The award-winning 2012 Saudi Arabian-German film follows its title character as she tried to raise money for a new bicycle by entering a Koran recitation contest. The movie plays Saturday at 3 p.m., Monday at 6 p.m. and May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

“Frances Ha” — This comedy follows the title character, a 27-year-old dancer, who is left to figure out life on her own after her roommate moves out. The film will play on Sunday at 3 p.m., Monday at 8 p.m. and May 15 at 8:15 p.m.

“The Great Beauty” — After the fantastic success of his one (and only) novel, journalist Jep Gambardella became a permanent fixture of Rome’s social scene. But now, at 65, he is forced to take stock of his life. The film screens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and 8:30 p.m. on May 17.

“The Past” — This 2013 film follows the story of an Iranian man who leaves his French wife and children to return to his homeland, only to return four years later to finalize their divorce. The movie will play Sunday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 6 p.m. and May 16 at 8:45 p.m.

General admission is $8 but a six-pack of tickets is available for $30. Students get in for $5 with a valid school ID. The box office opens 20 minutes before show time.

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Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or Follow him on Twitter at

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