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Local pipeline activism on screen at CineMarfa

May 4th, 2017 under Arts
Local documentarian Jessica Lutz will show short films this weekend during the CineMarfa Film Festival depicting the trials of landowners and environmentalists during the construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

Local documentarian Jessica Lutz will show short films this weekend during the CineMarfa Film Festival depicting the trials of landowners and environmentalists during the construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.


PRESIDIO — The programming at this weekend’s CineMarfa film festival includes documentaries examining some of the most pressing political issues of our time. From the festival opener, “Maidan,” on the uprising that brought down a Ukrainian president, to films on the ongoing effects of climate change. These films depict political and environmental challenges that communities across the globe face and the power of engagement and organizing to combat them.

Films depicting the activism around no less important an issue than Far West Texas’ own Trans-Pecos Pipeline will be showcased Friday afternoon as part of the festivals free program. Local filmmaker Jessica Lutz and Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson of Austin-based V&M Productions will present short films chronicling the movement against the Trans-Pecos Pipeline spanning the past two years.

The filmmakers will sit for a panel discussion following the screening with organizers from the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, the Two Rivers Camp and Camp Toyahvale.

Before they started documenting the Trans-Pecos Pipeline opposition, Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson had been long-time environmentalist and volunteered with the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and other advocacy groups. The couple was active in awareness-raising campaigns about the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline and marches against coal mining in Eagle Pass. When opposition to the Trans-Pecos Pipeline ramped up, they already had connections with local organizers, including members of the Big Bend Defense Coalition and the Two Rivers Camp.

Ramos and Anderson had recently formed V&M Productions and decided the best way they could aid the movement lay in their skills as multimedia documentarians and storytellers.

“I want to approach it through film because that’s where my passion is,” Anderson told the Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International. “I think it’s our niche and the best way we could get the word out about the issue.”

“As a storyteller, one of the things I want to highlight is how communities are struggling,” Ramos said. “They have power in their voices, so we can make sure those voices are hear. Multimedia is a powerful tool for that.”

Ramos and Anderson will present two films on Friday. One made during the November 2016 march from the Marfa Lights Viewing Station to the pipeline construction easement. The second film was made during an early morning direct action protest in February 2017 in which several activists chained themselves to barrels to block pipeline contractors from accessing their equipment.

Although they were made within a relatively short time period, the two films depict different sides of a movement. Opposition to the Trans-Pecos Pipeline started with landowners and local environmentalist fighting the project primarily through legal avenues and large, well-publicized marches. Those fights are still being fought, but the movement splintered. Spin-off groups in late 2016 started staging direct action protests aimed protecting West Texas’ land, water and air by immediately stalling construction. Local organizers and activists from across the country put their bodies in physical danger and risked arrest to disrupt construction. Anderson himself was arrested while filming a February action.

“We wanted to make films showing that local and indigenous people are willing to put their bodies on the line to make it known that this fight is happening and isn’t over,” Ramos said.

Although construction on the pipeline nearly completed, Ramos and Anderson said they hope people will take away from their films that there are always more fights to be fought to protect the environment.

“What [the Trans-Pecos Pipeline] signaled to me was that it was the first wave of coming industrial projects in this region,” Anderson said. “Our work was largely about getting the word out and building resistance for the next fight.”

Ramos hopes their work will inspire more people to document and publicize community and environmental struggles. “There is a lot more media work to be down. That’s what I’m most excited about,” Ramos said. “To meet more people on the ground and more storytellers and freelancers.”

Jessica Lutz has been around the pipeline issue since the project was first announced. Although not previously an activist, the Marfa resident is close with members of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance and was privy to many conversations with landowners and local environmentalists. As a photographer and videographer, Lutz started documenting the pipeline process early on and found herself preserving the stories and moments of an issue very close to her own heart.

“I’m not really an activist but I’ve always documented everything going on around me,” Lutz said. “I got pulled into documenting the pipeline and I was passionate about preserving one of the last remaining wild places in Texas.”

Lutz’ films from the past two years capture rare moments with landowners and local environmentalists, as well as the involvement of Indigenous activists who set up camps and joined the movement.

“I was hearing these stories, and I really do believe that this is one of the last wild places in Texas and the United States and I understand the value in keeping it that way,” Lutz said. “So I was approaching it and most of my shooting came from that perspective.”

As construction wraps up on the pipeline, Lutz also feels like the fight to protect West Texas’ environment continues.

“I’ve always seen this as not just about the pipeline but of the wider industrialization of one of the last wild places in Texas and in the United States and about this idea that those places should be preserved,” she said. “One of the reasons I’ve been involved in the opposition is I feel like this pipeline will open up greater opportunity for industry to come in. I see Balmorhea and the Alpine High play as being a part of this overall infestation of industry in this region and its very sad for me.”

Short films about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline will screen on Friday, May 5 at the Lumberyard. Lutz, Ramos and Anderson will take part in a panel discussion with representatives of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, the Two Rivers Camp and Camp Toyahvale following the screening.

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