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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown Screens ‘Impossible Town’ Documentary, Hosts DC Environmental Film Festival

Georgetown hosted a film screening as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival on March 25.

The Earth Commons, Georgetown University’s institute for environment and sustainability, and the Film and Media Studies Program jointly presented the 2023 documentary “Impossible Town,” a film about the human health effects of chemical pollutants, as part of the 32nd Annual D.C. Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF) March 25. 

“Impossible Town” follows Dr. Ayne Amjad, a West Virginia physician, as she attempts to find evidence that corporate pollution has filled the rural town of Minden, W.Va. with cancerous chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), driving up cancer rates. Following the screening, filmmakers Scott Faris and Meg Griffiths, consulting producer Alia Mansoori and Earth Commons co-director Randall Amster joined Amjad to talk about the documentary. 

Faris, a West Virginia native, said that his desire to combat consistently negative portrayals of his home state in the media was the initial motivation for the film.

“We were looking for interesting stories to tell in West Virginia, because for so long we had wanted to tell a story that had something positive to say about the state,” Faris said at the event.

West Virginia’s oil and gas industries, along with its history of coal mining, have contributed to high pollution rates across the state. In Minden, residents spent decades seeking compensation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to PCBs deposited in the water and soil from manufacturing processes associated with coal mining. 

Faris said that after a mutual friend connected him with Amjad, he reached out to inquire about documenting her attempt to find evidence of PCB contamination in Minden, win financial compensation for families of cancer patients and eventually relocate the town to a new, chemical-free area. 

“It’s a testament to how gracious and generous she is that she said, ‘Well, why don’t you come on out? Bring your crew, bring your cameras and just tell me if there’s anything interesting going on here,’” Faris said. “We started in February of 2019 and just didn’t stop filming for four years.” 

@IMPOSSIBLETOWN/INSTAGRAM | As an installment in the DC Environmental Film Festival, Georgetown screened “Impossible Town,” a documentary that highlights environmental justice work in Minden, W.Va.

The four years of filming culminated with a testing company uncovering only trace amounts of PCBs, not enough to justify compensation or relocation in the eyes of the EPA. According to the film, these findings do not rule out the possibility of past contamination in Minden, and residents will continue fighting for those who wish to relocate. 

Margaret Badding, an attendee at the event who works in environmental law, said that she was pleased with how the film truthfully depicted the harsh realities of environmental justice work. 

“We really appreciated that they were honest with the outcome and that it could be seen as a failure, but they shared null results anyway,” Badding said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s honestly a very common outcome for environmental justice activism campaigns, unfortunately, and it’s nice to see it presented and given its due justice.” 

According to Amster, the film presented a unique, personal perspective on environmental advocacy, which is often overlooked when gathering and analyzing information for any environmental justice work.

“It’s not always easy to remember that there are people with full stories, three dimensional stories, behind any data points that we look at,” Amster said at the event.

Reflecting on the documentary’s release, Faris said that he remains tethered to the story by his strong relationships with Minden community members and hopes the film generates conversation about justice in the town.

“How do you reconcile that sort of historical trauma with a present that looks very different?” Faris asked the group. 

Amjad said she hopes that her story serves as an inspiration for the younger generation and their role in pursuing environmental justice.

“If there’s another community out there that watches this, I hope they can learn what we probably did right, what we could have done better, maybe things that we could have approached differently,” Amjad said at the event. “I really hope young people get inspired by this and see that you can always do something. You might not always get what you want, but just keep trying and doing it because there is something that will come out of it.”

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