Water is Life

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Sam Vinal

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance by Alanis Obomsawin


What motivated you to make this impact video?

I am inspired by frontline organizers putting their bodies on the line and I felt called to go and share my skills to help the Louisiana swamp and its defenders.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

C300 mark ii because its picture quality and audio controls for a run and gun setup.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your impact video to help tell your story. 

We aimed to show the close and the wide in both the cinematography as well as the storytelling. We wanted to show the big ramification of climate change and the specific example, the collective effort and the individual toll on people and their families. It was also important to make this film in partnership with the local grassroots movement doing the work. They had a helpful and crucial voice during the entire process. This took a lot more time and energy but was also so useful to telling the story in a way that would be helpful for the greater movement of justice.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The story started as a series of conversations with the frontline organizers. We knew they were very busy doing the grassroots work, stopping the pipeline work and trying to get comrades out of jail. We hold relationship building as the fundamental value on how to do this work and that also played a key part in how the story evolved. The group we were working with/documenting asked for a lot more direct action footage to be involved as the direct action aspect was getting erased in the media and the story of the struggle. In the end having more direct action footage made the story more powerful.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film. 

The most rewarding experience was having L’Eau Est La Vie Camp take the film on a grassroots community screening tour. Besides that, it was cruising around the bayou and seeing the swamp turn from day to night.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Keep making work and keep making films as long as your work is improving and you feel the joy. Also, be kind to everyone. Lastly, take more time in pre-production without the camera around to build relationships with the “characters”/people who will be in your documentary.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. We are all part of this hurcelean amoeba each doing our part. Some people are riboflavin doing the production, some people are the cell membrane holding down the story structure, and others are cytoplasm making sure nothing gets forgotten. We all play a part to create something beautiful and impactful that is greater than our individual parts.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why? 

A small notebook that fits in my back pocket. Great, for notes, shot lists questions, quotes and funny memories.


Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

L’eau Est La Vie camp is a floating pipeline resistance camp. Although we have no leaders, we value the voices of our indigenous, black, femme, and two spirit organizers. We fight in the bayous of Louisiana, Chata Houma Chittimacha Atakapaw territory, to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, an Energy Transfer Partners project and the tail end of the Dakota Access Pipeline. BBP resistance is a continuation of our fight in Standing Rock, and furthermore a continuation of the centuries old fight to protect sacred stolen territory. But unlike the NoDAPL sacred fight, this camp must be smaller and more vetted, because of the fragile ecosystem, the surveillance, and the sacred wishes of the people of this land.

The second organization, Rise Saint James, is a community group that fights for community, children, and health. Taking inspiration from her late father, who was a local NAACP leader, Sharon Lvigne founded the group. Its located in the Saint James Parish community, a predominantly black community in the middle of what is known as Cancer Alley. It was founded with the goal of stopping two new chemical plants, Wanhua and Formosa, from coming in and further poisoning their community.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

This film was vital in being a tool to tell the struggle for the environment and climate justice in Louisiana. The short documentary was also critical in doing a community screenings tour to raise awareness and connect local struggles around the US to issues raised in the documentary. In addition the film now stands as a testament and visual witness to the struggle and how it was led by Indigenous women of color on the frontlines using direct action tactics, people and events often left out of the mainstream historical narrative.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video.

My father passed away soon after production for this video. Post-production ended up taking a lot longer than normal partly because of the pain and healing I was going through. And the slower timeline also gifted us the space to let the story develop into what it should be.

I will also never forget sharing a tent with the cameraman as a massive thunderstorm raged about us. He woke up screaming and confused because all the thunder and lightning and I half-laughed, half-yelled “Grab a tent pole, this ship feels like its going down!” We made it through the night and I will never forget the awe-inspiring sound of the storm, a gushing combination of rain buckets and cracking thunder.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I want people to fall in love with the revolution and join on the side of justice. I want people to understand all the sacrifices people and families make when doing this work and offer them love, resources and care to continue that work.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What do you think the most important lesson of the film is?

What does this film have to do with your life?

What issues in the film do you also face in your community?

What are the roots causes of oppression in this film and how do those roots threaten your communities?

How is land theft and resource exploitation on Indigenous land directly related to poverty?

What does decolonization look like in practice?

Who benefits from land theft and resource exploitation?

What are some stereotypes about Indigenous and Black folks and why is it so important for the political right to perpetuate these stereotypes in mainstream media?

How does resource extraction and unbridled consumption drive the climate crisis?

How do militarized police protect corporate interests and impact our communities?

How can we better connect fights against police brutality, resource extraction and migration?

What are steps we can take together to stop Indigenous land theft and the militarization of society?

What are some ways that we could break out of our silos and work across movements more?

How can we share the issues in the film in our own advocacy?

What gives you hope?

How are you building a Just Transition in your local community?

What local campaigns are having impact?

What are some recent movement victories?

What are people at this event working on over the next 6 months – 2 years?

How can people get involved in local movements and stay in touch with each other?

If you could ask anyone in the film a single question, whom would you ask and what would you ask them?

Describe a moment or scene in the film that you found particularly disturbing or moving. What was it about that scene that especially resonated with you?

What did you learn from this film? What insights did it provide?

If a friend asked you what this film was about, what would you say?


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

The Dakota Access Pipeline has already leaked 11 times. And to add insult to injury, Energy Transfer Partners is now trying to double the capacity of oil the pipeline can carry. This environmental destruction that hits Indigenous and people of color communities the hardest is why water protectors in Louisiana fought so hard against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. And today felony charges are still hanging over their head for the work that they did to protect our planet.


Due to threats and traumas from the No Bayou Bridge Pipeline campaign, many folks from the L’Eu Est La Vie (LELV) camp have moved to the Southwest where they are building a safe space for themselves and other movement folks who need a place to rest and heal. They are doing direct action trainings there as well as supporting other climate justice movements.

Some folks continue to live at and sustain the LELV Camp and are growing a food forest to provide nourishing vegetables and fruits to folks in Saint James and along Cancer Alley, Louisiana and for people who are doing direct action support. Contact Cherri Foytlin if you want to help plant.

Current Fundraising Needs:

Tiny House: This mobile house will be able to go and support different frontline struggles.

Bathhouse: For the LELV camp.

Maintenance and Gas for Cars: Help folks get around to other frontline struggles.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

DONATE & SWAG: Help L’eau Est La Vie continue their visionary work: https://www.gofundme.com/f/LELVC

or Venmo @LELVC and visit thier online store for SWAG: https://lelvrise.square.site/

HOST A SCREENING: Organize your own film screening. Contact [email protected] for support.

(Strategic Dates: World Day for Water, Earth Day, World Indigenous Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day)

GREEN NEW DEAL: Advocate with the sponsors and co-sponsors of the GND so that it addresses the concerns and reflects the ideas articulated by the Climate Justice Alliance https://climatejusticealliance.org/green-new-deal-must-rooted-just-transition-workers-communities-impacted-climate-change/


* Mountain Valley Pipeline: https://www.facebook.com/appalachiansagainstpipelines

* Jordan Cove: http://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/indexhtml?appid=03d8d090e26b4afeb41f18dfdb46313a

* Enbridge Energy’s Line 3: https://www.stopline3.org/#intro

* Keystone XL: https://www.narf.org/cases/keystone/

* Transmountain: https://www.facebook.com/tinyhousewarriors/ and https://www.facebook.com/pg/wakpawaste/

* Unist’ot’en Camp: https://www.facebook.com/unistoten/

DIVEST FROM BANKS KILLING THE PLANET: https://mazaskatalks.org/#theboycott

JOIN THE MAY 2020 IT TAKES ROOTS CONVENING: ”a gathering of more than 750 leaders, organizers and solutionaries to get to know each other’s movements, build new long-term strategies toward our collective liberation and prepare each other to contend for power together, lead together and struggle together.”


JOIN THE CLIMATE JUSTICE ALLIANCE: We’re a “member alliance of 70 urban & rural frontline communities, organizations and supporting networks in the climate justice movement. Member organizations lead CJA by anchoring major Just Transition projects focused on the social, racial, economic and environmental justice issues of climate change. We are locally, tribally, and regionally-based racial and economic justice organizations of Indigenous Peoples, African American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and poor white communities who share legacies of racial and economic oppression and social justice organizing.”

PANEL: Invite leaders in your area who have deep experience in Indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and frontline issues to engage your community in a discussion on: How does the theft of Indigenous land drive the climate crisis and poverty; How does militarism drive racism, violence, and poverty in the US?

GARDEN: Start a community garden at your local community center or school.

SHARE: Talk to your own networks about the issues in the film.

ORGANIZE: Reach out to a local organization working on these issues and find out what you can do.

OP-ED: Write an op-ed in your local newspaper about the issues.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Write a post about your solidarity with the issues and share the film.

JOIN A WITNESS FOR PEACE SOLIDARITY COLLECTIVE DELEGATION: Learn how US Imperialism impacts Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice in Latin America. [email protected]


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):




© SIMA Academy