Kimberly Levin’s gripping debut feature film RUNOFF is getting people talking about what goes into our food, the way we treat our land and water, and the ethical questions at the heart of everyday survival. Filmed on working farms, it’s a fictional work that has been called “Riveting,” (Variety), “Impressive” (The New York Times) “Amazing” (RogerEbert) and “A film you have to see” (Organic Authority).
EcoWatch had the chance to interview Levin. Here's what she had to say about the film:
Q. What was the inspiration for RUNOFF?
A. I originally trained as a biochemist before getting into film and theater. So, the idea for RUNOFF goes back to some field biochemistry work I was doing in Kentucky, where I grew up. I was testing stream waters in a little tributary that fed Lake Cumberland, this gorgeous place with emerald water and limestone cliffs.
I helped to uncover that a textile plant was dumping raw effluent, untreated wastewater into the little stream, which flowed into the lake, which is also the state’s largest tourist attraction, a place where people get their drinking water and go fishing.
Activists and lawyers picked up on the research and eventually got the plant closed, which was a huge victory on one hand. But the factory was relocated—beyond some border, to another community. I was haunted that the problem wasn’t solved; it was just someone else’s now.
I started thinking about how we make difficult decisions about what we prioritize, about how wide we draw the circle around ourselves when we make these tough choices.
When my back is against the wall, and I have to decide between the lesser of evils, who’s inside my circle? Is it me and my family? My neighbors? How far out does my sense of community and responsibility extend? That’s not the story you see on screen in RUNOFF, but those are some of the themes I was thinking about when I sat down to write.
Q. RUNOFF tells the story of a woman up against a threat posed by a big Monsanto-like company. And yet, unlike a lot of Hollywood movies, it’s open-ended, and the protagonist Betty isn’t exactly a heroine. Can you talk about why?
A. I think that meaningful change happens when people connect the dots, when they come to an idea themselves. RUNOFF invites the audience to do this. It’s not a David-and-Goliath story that ends with a triumphant victory and makes us feel like all the work has been done for us. In RUNOFF, Betty and Frank are caught in a real ethical dilemma, which asks the audience to bring their own personal narrative and world-view to the table, to look a little deeper.
Q. The film has a lot to do with pesticides and herbicides and other nonsense that gets into our food. Have you had any response from farmers or been attacked by big agribusiness?
A. RUNOFF is a character study first and foremost. We’ve had lots of farmers respond to the film because they see themselves in Betty and Frank.
If the film has a hidden agenda, it is to start inclusive conversations, particularly among parties that have trouble finding common ground. By fictionalizing and hopefully humanizing characters who are painted into a corner, we can expand the conversation. Because it’s going to take everyone coming to the table to fix the problems we’re facing.
Q. What effect do you hope the film will have?
A. As a fiction, I hope it will engage an audience well beyond those who typically see all of the amazing docs out there in this space. After seeing RUNOFF, there are always incredibly lively and lengthy post-screening discussions. We get kicked out of the theater, the conversation extends to the hallways and out the door. I hope that RUNOFF gets the audience thinking about how legacy is something that seems very far away but in fact it’s right in front of us.
RUNOFF is in select theaters and on digital platforms across the U.S. and Canada.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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