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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Kayla Reopelle at 8:03PM   |  4 comments
Li Zhen, Cotton Road's co-producer, and Laura Kissel sit with a clothing factory cook in China

Blog posting by Kayla Reopelle, Documentary Studies and Production ’14, FLEFF Blogger, Roy, WA


“I don’t really want to give you an answer, I just want to show you that this is our global process that we have designed for producing textiles and so do we believe that it’s equitable and fair and moral or not?”


Associate Professor Laura Kissel, Director of the Film and Media Studies program at the University of South Carolina, will return to Ithaca for the world premiere of her documentary, Cotton Road, at the 17th annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.


Cotton Road moves “from dirt to shirt,” exploring every step of textile production from cotton farms in South Carolina to factories in China.

Two years ago, Professor Kissel screened a 40 minute cut of her film at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. This cut focused on the textile factories in China. 


“I think there’s quite a bit of the story that got left out in the rough cut screened at FLEFF two years ago. What you can look forward to now is the entire journey from field to finished product.” 


Kissel’s inspiration for this film originated from a film she worked on in the early 2000’s about a rural Georgia landscape. That project brought her to a cotton gin for the first time and she became fascinated by the process of textile production.


“That really made me understand how much we take for granted, how much about our clothing we don’t have access to in terms of its production,” Kissel said. “I became really interested in trying to visualize that process and make it more accessible to people.”


Kissel wants to show the process of textile production, without laying out specific solutions or courses of action, unlike the trend for mass distributed American documentaries which lean on solution-driven narratives.


“Most mass distributed documentaries these days seem to follow the same kind of formula: they set up a problem and give you a solution or they set up a conflict and allow you to key into some protagonist and antagonist to see how the conflict is resolved at the end of the film. 


There’s certainly a place for [these kinds of documentaries]. They can be very entertaining, but they sort of tell you what to think.


My film doesn’t do that. 


It doesn’t provide any kind of solution to the environmental problems it documents. It doesn’t provide an economic solution that would be more fair. 


It’s a film that really invites audiences to really wrestle with the complexities of our globalized economy. It also asks audiences to have empathy for all of the people who are within the supply chain. 


There are different pressures on a migrant worker in China than there are on a factory owner in China than there are on a farmer or a minimum wage farm laborer.


My film is not really proposing any one way of understanding all of these complexities, but it’s really inviting the audience to engage with the elements that get presented. 


A lot of issues are presented in the film... I think in terms of dissonance then, it’s perhaps the viewing of the film itself that creates dissonance within the audience.”


The world premiere of Cotton Road will be held on Saturday April 5 at Cinemapolis at 2:10 pm.





I'm very much looking forward to this film. I wonder if the film will show how globalization has affected the people producing textiles and if/how globalization has fostered a friendly environment for the illicit market. How do illegal goods ultimately get to us?

I saw the rough cut of this back in 2012 and was fascinated by the topic; Being told the entire story of the production of clothes provides us with the information we need to decide how we can improve global markets. I wonder if 'Cotton Road' will make apparent the consequence of being able to buy our clothes for cheap, will it inspire people to take responsibility for their "dollar vote"?

Elma, I think that Cotton Road will present just how globalized the textile industry is. Our clothing could not be made without the labor and cooperation of workers from different nations. I do not know if the illicit market for textiles will have a large focus in the film, I suppose we'll have to watch it next week to find out!

Molly, I also saw the rough cut of this film back in 2012. Based on my discussions with Kissel, the finished film is encouraging audiences to think about the complex issues of consumerism in a globalized economy, but viewers will have to make their own decisions with what to do with this information.

Thanks for your comments, Elma. There's a great scene in the film that takes place at a Shanghai clothing factory where the owner of the factory is getting ready to produce a baseball jersey of a major league US team. She describes that she went out into the streets of Shanghai that morning to buy the baseball jersey (likely also a counterfeit!).

To your question about how globalized production impacts workers-- yes, I believe my film shows this in many ways. You will see how hard it is to make a living as a migrant worker; you'll see signs of pollution and hear about unfair wage practices-- both from the perspective of workers but also factory owners, who have to work harder and for less money to produce the orders placed by western retailers who want to sell clothing to American consumers as cheaply as possible.

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