What Lies Upstream

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USA | 2017 | 89 minutes | Cullen Hoback

Investigating a massive chemical spill in West Virginia that left 300,000 people without drinking water for months, filmmaker Cullen Hoback (Terms and Conditions May Apply) uncovers government and corporate collusion with frightening nationwide public-health implications.

Related Forum Event

Director Cullen Hoback will participate in the free forum event "Turning True-Life Stories into Narrative Films."
SIFF Lounge; Saturday, June 3: 1:15pm

Sunday, May 28, 2017

  • Purchased Tickets
  • Limited Availability
  • On Standby
  • Matinee

Lincoln Square

3:30 PM Date has passed

Saturday, June 3, 2017

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  • Limited Availability
  • On Standby
  • Matinee

SIFF Cinema Uptown

5:30 PM Date has passed Director Cullen Hoback scheduled to attend

Sunday, June 4, 2017

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  • On Standby
  • Matinee

AMC Pacific Place

11:00 AM Date has passed Director Cullen Hoback scheduled to attend

Methodical in its narrative build-up and presentation, Cullen Hoback's documentary depicts harsh calamity and delivers an eviscerating commentary on the state of environmental regulations and the chemical manufacturers taking advantage of them. In January 2014, coal chemical processor Freedom Industries allowed a chemical spill into the Elks River near Charleston, West Virginia, contaminating the drinking water of more than 300,000 local residents. Initial fallout inspired Hoback's three-year investigation, which would lead him from local government to the EPA and its attempts at regulation—or rather an alarming lack thereof. Interviews with the working poor offer the starkest depictions of life in West Virginia's "Chemical Valley," where several mining and chemical companies maintain their plants. Although locally severe, Hoback finds Charleston's water-quality problems a microcosm of nationwide environmental malpractice, as companies are allowed to fabricate their own safety data, which is then used by local governments to determine regulations and the extent to which they'll enforce them. Hoback is steadfast and serene in his interviewing despite confrontation with tribalist hypocrisy as West Virginia lawmakers roll back environmental regulations a year after the spill under lobbyist influence. This film carries a profound relevance in the face of Trump-era EPA rollbacks and defunding. After all, as Hoback notes at the film's close, we all live downstream of something.

Director Biography

Cullen Hoback, originally from Los Angeles, has won multiple awards, and his films, Monster Camp (2007) and Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013), have shown in top festivals and theaters around the world. His most recent film Terms And Conditions May Apply—a humorous but chilling documentary about digital privacy—had a significant theatrical release, was picked up by Participant's PIVOT network, and has been viewed by millions. He has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, NPR, Fox, HuffPo Live and others, and has written op-eds for The Guardian and other major media outlets.

Sponsored by Lynn Hubbard & David Zapolsky, WatchGuard Technologies, Seattle Malaria Clinical Trials Center, RippleFLIX

  • Director: Cullen Hoback
  • Principal Cast: Dr. Marc Edwards, Dr. Rahul Gupta, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Cullen Hoback, Randy Huffman, Dr. David Lewis, Maya Nye, Dr. Andrew Whelton
  • Premiere Status: Seattle
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2017
  • Running Time: 89 minutes
  • Producer: John Ramos
  • Screenplay: Cullen Hoback
  • Cinematographers: Vince Sweeney
  • Editors: Cullen Hoback, Geoffrey Richman
  • Music: John Morgan Askew
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Filmography: Terms & Conditions May Apply (2013); Friction (2010); Monster Camp (2007); Freedom State (2006); The Everything Machine (2006)
  • Language: English
  • Format: DCP
  • International Sales: Preferred Content