I first learned about the Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in July 2013. I was invited to a meeting at the World Community Center in St. Louis, hosted by Missourians for Reform and Empowerment, with featured speakers from the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance (GPTSR). The GPTSR group was from Oklahoma and had been initiating direct action tactics against the Flanagan South pipeline since construction began in their state. I knew about the dangerous ecological impacts of tar sands and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, but I was alarmed to find out a tar sands pipeline was coming through Missouri. I had heard nothing about it, and the project had been in process for nearly two years. I learned that despite some resistance and a few lawsuits, the pipeline was approved and construction would begin in Missouri that fall of 2013.
As a senior in film school at Webster University, I decided my final documentary film project would tell the story of the Flanagan South in Missouri, my home state, to capture the stories of the changing landscapes and communities. With a small dedicated crew of fellow students, we spent the year of 2013-2014 making four trips in total across the state of Missouri through all 11 counties that were affected by the pipeline. We received incredible help and support from community members and reporters to find people who were living with the economic and environmental reality of the Flanagan South. We strove to make a film from the communities’ perspective of the unfolding pipeline construction and operation.
As expressed in the film by Danny Ferguson, a city councilman from Adrian, Missouri, and now friend, the futility of the situation presented a challenge. We arrived to the issue late, and while we do not consider ourselves necessarily activist filmmakers, it seemed we could only capture the story of the Flanagan South after the fact. This turned out not to be the case. We found generous landowners and citizens who live with the reality of pipeline – contracts, corporate land agents, lawyers, emergency plans, crop rotations, and local economic issues. It was anything but an after-the-fact issue.
We see From the Pipeline most importantly as a historical document of a significant event for not only our community. The Flanagan South is representative of many pipeline projects across the United States that received fast permitting, disallow extensive public comment, and provide little economic incentive for local communities. It is representative of our country’s commitment to fossil fuels even when renewable options are becoming more and more plentiful. It exposes our deep dissonance with how our energy is produced and provides us a real picture of the communities who bear the brunt of our energy choices.
Caitlin Zera, From the Pipeline director