MSU Graduate Evan Kutz '19 Explores Water Contamination in Investigative Documentary, "The Ground Beneath Our Feet"
With his camera in tow, Spartan Evan Kutz '19 investigates an ongoing environmental battle in his new documentary “The Ground Beneath Our Feet.” Set to premiere on August 3 at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival, the film explores the implications of chemical dumping through the eyes of several neighbors living near an old waste dump in Rockford, Michigan.
The neighbors’ wells were contaminated by a class of chemicals known as PFAS, known for causing troubling health conditions such as cancer and birth defects. The documentary raises awareness about the issue and focuses on the community’s newfound interest in environmental activism.
“I hope that people will learn that they, too, can stand up to their local governments and the companies in their neighborhood who may have practiced poor environmental stewardship,” said Kutz. “It’s possible to fight back for your community when you have enough determination and the truth.”
Majoring in Journalism at MSU, Kutz was able to apply his investigative reporting techniques to the filmmaking process. He credits the education he received at Michigan State as being vital in the production of the documentary about PFAS. The idea itself came at the suggestion of his instructor, John Valadez, a professor of practice in the Department of Media and Information. The pair had been searching for opportunities to tell stories of Michiganders facing poor environmental stewardship.
“I certainly benefited from his advice and was able to find some pretty charismatic and really caring and amazing individuals,” said Kutz. “They were patient and happy to hang out with a few MSU students while we attempted to make a movie about their lives.”
Kutz and his team of fellow MSU students applied for the film’s first set of funding in the spring of 2018, but did not receive an official grant to start production until the fall. Despite not receiving the grant the first time around, Kutz said MSU still provided assistance and resources in his pursuit to research the citizens of Rockford. He received funding for gas and got to spend extra time doing in-depth research. He was also able to get in touch with the original journalist from MLive who first reported on the PFAS crisis in Rockford. From there, he was able to make more connections with locals who were willing to share their stories.
Kutz wishes to continue sharing his research into PFAS after the film premieres at the Traverse City Film Festival. He plans to feature his work at other festival screenings and is working on a more complete documentary. The finished product will include additional residents in Rockford displaying activism through a more organized outlet. This group, the Concerned Citizens for Rockford Remediation, and their key member, Lin Macintosh, are not yet featured in the film, but Kutz cites them as being important to the overall narrative.
“It's a truly humbling experience to be welcomed into someone's life and trusted with telling their story,” said Kutz. “Over the course of production, getting to know these folks helped us tell one that's really honest.”
“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” will screen at Old Town Playhouse on August 3 at noon, alongside several other alumni and student-produced short films. Tickets are still available for purchase on the official Traverse City Film Festival website.
By John Castro