Exploring “Swine Country” | Notes on the Documentary Premiere and Panel Discussion

Art has served as a platform for activism over the centuries, from the earliest political cartoons, to integral pieces in protests, to graffiti, and beyond. Here at Guilford, seniors Tom Clement and Sol Weiner make their mark in this realm with their documentary Swine Country: The fight for clean air and water in Duplin County, North Carolina, which they premiered on campus this past Thursday. What started as a promotional video for the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH) has grown into a commentary on industrial hog farming, the horrible living conditions for those who live next to CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations), and the environmental racism that has prevented change. Following the film screening, a panel discussion lead by Maia Dery as well as five passionate individuals who helped make Tom and Sol’s research possible gave Guilfordians advice on how to take what we see in the documentary to the next level by combining activism and experiential learning to make real change in our communities.

A sharp and poignant statement of what's happening in Duplin County. (image courtesy of Dove Imaging)
A sharp and poignant statement of what’s happening in Duplin County. (image courtesy of Dove Imaging)

As students, we tend to get stuck in a box of how to present research. In every class I have taken, the question “can I use PowerPoint for this?” is asked without fail. The decision Tom and Sol made all those months ago to make a film sets them apart in such a distinct way. Though their intention was to fill a marketing necessity for REACH, the film format gives them indisputable advantages when it comes to publicizing their research. Not only do they capture the interest of their intended viewer simply by making a movie, but also they have a chance to make their media public. As they mentioned during the Q&A on Thursday, Tom and Sol are entering their documentary in film festivals and to local public television stations.

It is clear that this movie was also a venue for artistic expression. Swine Country is short and informative, as are most of the image sequences, but the filmed content maintains a narrative through aesthetic. From the beginning scene scrolling through packaged pork products to the middle with playful pigs out in the open, Tom’s affinity for quick takes gives a stream of consciousness-like flow to the images he presents. Even in filming interviews, the perspective on each interviewee changes at least once during most segments, ensuring active listening by pulling attention back to the speaker’s face. Many of the images in the video were obtained from an image archive,  but the way they are compiled follows this attention grabbing aesthetic. The subject matter at times got a little disgusting (I mean, the movie is based around hog waste) but the images shown were not as gross as the content, once again, stating facts but maintaining interest. The film and photos synched together with the  soundtrack makes for a well-constructed and serious yet unpretentious first film. Watch the film’s trailer below and get introduced to their research and aesthetic.

The accessibility to their subject maintained throughout the film is what I find most successful about Swine Country. The large and complex history and system of industrial hog farming and environmental racism in Duplin County is not a well-known problem, especially for those (like myself) who come to Guilford from out of state. Their creativity and good information makes the movie enjoyable and relevant, ultimately highlighting that their subject defines “interdisciplinary learning”. As Maia stated during the post-screening panel, “there is not a major offered at Guilford that does not apply to the subject [of CAFO’s and environmental justice]” and she is absolutely right. History, Science, Justice and Policy, Psychology, Sociology, and Art and more have ties to the topic and provide students with the skill set and potential to make changes in this disgusting and dangerous industry.

As emphasized many times by the panelists on Thursday, as students we have a great opportunity to create change in our communities. In what ways to you strive for change in the world around us? Do we as students have a responsibility to take action? Comment below and let us know what you think!

As mentioned above, Tom and Sol are working to make their video public in a few different realms. Until then, read their interview in the News and Record from last week, posted here. Also, be sure to check out the website for REACH found here, and keep an eye out for updates on “Swine Country”

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