“There might not be any bottom to this,” were the words of warning given by Derrick Evans’ mother when he began fighting to protect his community of Turkey Creek. The struggle is the center of the film, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek.
More about the film from filmmaker Leah Mahan’s website:
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek follows the painful but inspiring journey of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moves home to coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Over the course of a decade, Derrick and his neighbors stand up to powerful corporate interests and politicians and face Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster in their struggle for self-determination and environmental justice.
“This intimate film tells a gigantic story — about race, about power, about so-called development. But it is also a saga of community, resilience, resistance, and hope. It’s about everything that matters in our society.”
− Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools
“The language of power and oppression is omnipresent in Come Hell or High Water, and it doesn’t get any better as Katrina pounds Gulfport in 2005. Still no better when the BP oil disaster happens five years after that. The documentary captures Turkey Creek’s responses to all of these tragedies — and a few remarkable victories against the powers that be.”
− Brentin Mock, Grist
““This powerful documentary illustrates a classic case of environmental injustice and exposes raw in-your-face Mississippi racial politics. Come Hell or High Water is a perfect lesson that we are not living in a post-racial era.””
− Dr. Robert Bullard, “father of environmental justice”
““We were moved to tears. You see, Africatown, much like Turkey Creek, was established by freed slaves, and the stories were eerily similar in so many ways. For us it was a painful reminder, but it was validation, it was hope. We need tangible evidence to show the community why it is so important to not give up, no matter what.””
− Teresa Fox-Bettis, Center for Fair Housing in Mobile, Alabama
““Come Hell or High Water captures one of the most important but hidden stories of America’s efforts to restrict, constrict and silence African Americans and the often unrewarded but necessary resistance to such oppression. The battle for Turkey Creek is a reminder of true democracy in the midst of a larger culture of acquisition and greed.””
− Dr. Susan M. Glisson, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
Filmmaker Leah Mahan worked on the documentary for a dozen years and was invited to collaborate with world-class creative advisors as a fellow at the Sundance Institute Documentary Editing and Story Lab. Come Hell or High Water won the Audience Award for Documentary Feature when it premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival in October 2013. A sneak preview hosted by the Reel Power project was held that month at Power Shift, a national gathering of 8,000 youth leaders held in Pittsburgh.
The film had its Washington, D.C. premiere on March 30, on the final day of the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. The theme of the 22nd annual festival, Our Cities, Our Planet, examined “the challenges posed by Earth’s urban environments and the efforts of the world’s cities to balance environmental and economic needs.” The free film screening at the Carnegie Institution for Science was followed by a panel discussion with special guests: Derrick Evans of Turkey Creek; Leslie Fields, National Environmental Justice Director for the Sierra Club; filmmaker Leah Mahan; Grist writer Brentin Mock; and Reilly Morse, president of the Mississippi Center for Justice.
On April 9, Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice,” hosted a screening of the film at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, where he serves as Dean. Guests included Derrick Evans and Houston environmental justice leaders. Dr. Bullard says, “This powerful documentary illustrates a classic case of environmental injustice and exposes raw in-your-face Mississippi racial politics. Come Hell or High Water is a perfect lesson that we are not living in a post-racial era.”
The documentary was shown on April 24 at a gathering of Gulf Coast community leaders in Mobile, Alabama. The annual Justice Leadership Summit is hosted by the Center for Fair Housing. The director, Teresa Fox-Bettis, describes the impact of the film on Mobile residents: “We were moved to tears. You see, Africatown, much like Turkey Creek, was established by freed slaves, and the stories were eerily similar in so many ways. For us it was a painful reminder, but it was validation, it was hope. We need tangible evidence to show the community why it is so important to not give up, no matter what.”
On April 29, Come Hell or High Water premiered on public television on the WORLD Channel series America Reframed. Through the lens of 26 independent films, America Reframed tells the many stories of a transforming American culture and its broad diversity. Come Hell or High Water will stream on the series website for 30 days after the broadcast and be available for order through Bullfrog Films. In late May the film will be featured at the San Francisco Green Film Festival.
The documentary will be part of American Film Showcase 2014, a program funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts that aims to highlight the value of film in fostering understanding and cooperation, dialogue and debate.
While producing the film, Mahan worked with Derrick Evans and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health to create Bridge the Gulf, a community media project that has been a resource to people and organizations across the Gulf South since it launched in 2010; a redesign of the website launched in late March with support from the Independent Television Service. Bridge the Gulf places the Turkey Creek story in a broader context, connecting viewers to a network of Gulf Coast community journalists and storytellers with deep roots in diverse communities and fields who report on pressing social and environmental issues. The project has drawn the attention of MSNBC, the BBC, NPR and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The documentary is part of Reel Power, a collaborative of award-winning documentary filmmakers, individual leaders and organizations working to address climate change and the long-term impact of destructive resource extraction. Through targeted and public screening events, strategy convenings, and hands-on trainings coordinated by Working Films and supported by Chicken and Egg Pictures, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Putnam Foundation, Reel Power is positioning Come Hell or High Water and other high impact films to promote and advance new energy solutions and a clean and just energy future.
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek is a co-production of Zamler Productions, LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), produced in association with Mississippi Public Broadcasting, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The film was also supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Berkeley Film Foundation, Just Media Fund, Winograd-Hutner Family Fund, Nu Lambda Trust, LEF Moving Image Fund, Fleishhacker Foundation and individual donors.