Debra Born, Staff Writer
Director and filmmaker Chanda Chevannes visited Utica College on Thursday, Nov. 1, to present her latest documentary film.
Titled “UNFRACTURED,” the documentary focuses on the impact hydrofracking has on the environment and its potential as a cause of cancer. Chevannes was also accompanied by the subject of her film, Sandra Steingraber.
Several of Steingraber’s close family members have cancer. However, even with a family background steeped in cancer, Steingraber was not expected to become diagnosed with cancer herself for one simple reason – Steingraber was adopted.
Clearly, the genetics of her adopted family did not influence Steingraber’s cancer, so she began to research other possible causes. She landed on environmental issues as the root of the problem.
“UNFRACTURED” reveals Steingraber’s opinion on hydrofracking, which she believes can cause cancer. The documentary calls for a human rights movement.
Chevannes worked hard to tell Steingraber’s story through film, and the filmmaker and subject have been collaborating since 2006 in an effort to convince the world to stop hydrofracking.
Chevannes and Steingraber visited Professor of Journalism David Chanatry’s documentary filmmaking class to discuss the film with students.
Chevannes gave the students advice about filming a documentary from her personal experiences.
“If you have a vision, then you have a place to head to,” Chevannes said.
The film directed by Chevannes explored more than the science behind Steingraber’s argument against fracking.
“She wanted to show in film the lives behind the data points [related to hydrofracking],” Steingraber said.
One of the underlying characteristics of the film was its unfolding story of Steingraber’s life and her activism. Chevannes considered it to be a “character-driven essay film” and was able to weave breathtaking details of Steingraber’s life and hometown throughout the film.
“You have to bring imagination to the process,” Chevannes said.
Chevannes formed a plan for the documentary long before she started to film.
The filmmaker had read Steingraber’s book about the impact of fracking on the environment. The book, titled “Living Downstream,” touched Chevannes in a way that compelled her to read and re-read it many times.
Through the book, Chevannes became immersed in Steingraber’s story and her activism long before they met. Eventually, the filmmaker reached out to Steingraber to ask her if she could film a documentary about her story. Steingraber agreed, and after filming a shorter documentary based on the book, Chevannes started a more intense project with Steingraber with “UNFRACTURED.” The film would take over two years to create and compelled Chevannes to be involved in the activism against fracking for long afterward.
Chevannes discussed video editing with the students in Chanatry’s class, and compared initial footage to a chunk of marble to be carved into a beautiful sculpture.
The filmmaker had over 200 hours of footage to work with from over two years of filming. She spent six hours a day for five days a week watching the footage, which took her two months. Chevannes also took two days to delete the extra footage.
“UNFRACTURED” is more than a documentary about a cancer survivor imploring the world to stop hydrofracking. It is a gripping story about Steingraber’s life and hopes for the future that touches viewers, whether or not they agree with the biologist’s stance in the hydrofracking controversy.