Interest should run high for My Toxic Backyard. It’s a locally made documentary about a local and timely problem — the long-standing issue of getting the old CTS plant cleaned up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is the kind of activist documentary that could easily have gone wrong in so many ways. It could have been unfocused and angry. It could have — as is the nature of most documentaries — gone on far too long after it had made its point. But director Katie Damien navigated these potential pitfalls and has delivered — with the aid of such other local talent as filmmakers Jaime Byrd, David Saich and composer Jason Smith — a straightforward film that builds its case methodically and coolly with little editorializing. It channels its anger through the voices of those affected by the cancer-causing pollutants still being filtered into the soil by the long-abandoned plant. For that matter, after years of fighting the battle and losing loved ones along the way, much of their anger and frustration has turned to sadness. It is this sadness — and determination — that fuels the viewer’s ire. For such a simple film, My Toxic Backyard manages to be both powerful and graceful.
Intriguingly, the project was a long-gestating one that began when Damien was looking for a home and discovered that housing in the Mills Gap area near the site was unusually affordable. The reason for this was soon apparent and caused Damien to look elsewhere, but the story continued to haunt her — leading to this film. That’s actually fitting, since the story itself has been going on for 20 years — two decades of efforts and legal battles to get the EPA to do something about the site and its spreading pollution. It’s a disturbing, frustating and infuriating tale that is well told — and worth your time for the issue, for the film itself and, yes, for the support of local filmmaking. Not Rated
Starts Friday at Fine Arts Theatre for one show a day.