EXCLUSIVE: Prepare to clinch your fists and yell at your computer screen. The documentary What Lies Upstream from writer-director Cullen Hoback takes an unflinching deep dive into the aftermath of the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill that dumped up to 10,000 gallons of crude 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol – used as a froth floation agent to separate coal from other minerals in a tank of water – into West Virginia’s Elk River. The incident left up to 300,000 residents within nine counties without potable water, made worse when a second spill occurred at the same spot in June of that year.
In What Lies Upstream, Hoback investigates what became the largest chemical drinking water contamination in a generation, uncovering deep problems in regulatory oversight at both the state and federal level, and how those failures allowed such destructive pollution to occur. The film has its world premiere January 20th on the first night of the Slamdance Film Festival, and in advance of that you can see two clips shedding light on the problem. In the first, atop the page, we’re shown how bad the similarly disastrous Flint Michigan lead contamination problem got and how it relates to the problem in West Virginia, and in the clip below, you’ll see how it affected people in West Virginia who use the river alongside the companies polluting it.
Directed, written, and edited by Cullen Hoback, What Lies Upstream is produced by John Ramos, Cullen Hoback, and Nitin Khanna and executive produced by Nitin Khanna, Karan Khanna, Jaswinder Grover, and Jay Walia, with Alina Solodnikova serving as associate producer. Vincent Sweeney served as cinematographer with Geoffrey Richman and Greg Finton along as consulting editors, and John Morgan Askew composing the film’s score.
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The film has its world premieres at the Ballroom Screening Room @ Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City Friday, January 20th at 6:45 PM. An encore screening is set for Monday, January 23rd at 3:00 PM at the same venue.