How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Commentary on the lasting impacts of environmental injustice

Photo by Nia Harmon

9/23/2023 by Nia Harmon

The Bright Lights Cinema Series Thursday held its opening movie screening and panel for the fall. Co-presented by the Boston Underground Film Festival, Emerson Engagement Lab and Emerson College Office of Sustainability, the environmental activism thriller “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” follows a group of eight working-class young adults from across the United States with one common goal: payback.

Photo by Nia Harmon

Each impacted by environmental injustice in their separate ways, the film depicts the traumas that accompany the individuals who are displaced, suffer from chronic illnesses and die as a result of environmental malpractice—all real-life experiences portrayed in the film. 

Adapted from Andreas Malm’s book of the same name that was published in 2021, movie viewers are taken on a riveting journey of ordinary people demanding to take back what was once theirs by any means necessary. 

Shot entirely on a 16-mm camera, the stunning visuals of the film intertwine seamlessly with action and intimacy as we follow each main character closely to that desolate house in West Texas in preparation for their bold and disruptive statement. 

“The film’s purpose is to put it in your face,” said Juwaria Jama, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major, environmental justice chair for Emerson Green Collective and a post-screening panelist. “I think that the movie does a really great job at showing the factories, showing the pollution, showing the ways in which marginalized communities are disenfranchised and are the ones to first be impacted.” 

Getting involved in climate activism through pipeline work in her home state of Minnesota, Jama is using her knowledge to enact change in Boston as well. 

“I think that it’s always important to start locally, but as college students, we aren’t exactly in our hometowns, so I think the next best thing to do is always to get involved with your school clubs, your school organizations, and from there getting deeply involved in community,” said Jama. “We care about the people around us, and we have hope that there is a better future.”

As the head of Film Exhibition and Festival Programs in the Visual Media Arts Department and leading the Bright Lights Cinema Series since its inception in 2012, Anna Feder takes a holistic approach to the movie selection process, ensuring representation throughout the series.

“I’m trying to find films that have as many ways into the story for as many audiences as possible,” said Feder. “There’s nothing more profound than seeing these stories up on a big screen, experiencing them together and then having an opportunity to share that experience.”

Throughout the fall, the Bright Lights Cinema series will screen a variety of movies, making these works of art accessible to students and the Boston community.

“This series is a gift to the Emerson Community. It’s a gift to the Boston film-going community. It’s free; anyone can come,” said Feder. “I think certainly for filmmakers that being part of the audience you hope will be there for your film is important, but this is a part of the ecosystem of filmmaking. It’s not a spectator’s sport; it’s a thing to engage in.”

To learn more about getting involved in environmental justice on campus, Emerson Green Collective meets every Thursday at 7:30 p.m.