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DOC NYC 2015 Women Directors: Meet Shannon Post – ‘Circle of Poison’

DOC NYC 2015 Women Directors: Meet Shannon Post - 'Circle of Poison'

Shannon Post is a filmmaker, sociologist and food and garden educator based in Brooklyn. “Circle of Poison” is her first film. Post is also the co-founder of Player Piano Productions, a company that makes films that matter in Brooklyn, NY. (Press materials) 

“Circle of Poison” will premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC Film Festival on November 18. The documentary is co-directed by Evan Mascagni. 

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

SP: A little-known federal policy allows U.S. companies to manufacture pesticides for export only that are too dangerous for use in the U.S. or that have never even been approved for use, suggesting that U.S. lives are more important than those abroad.

“Circle of Poison” explores the global trade in banned, restricted and unregistered pesticides and the impact of these chemicals on human health and the environment from the site of production, to their use in rural communities abroad and their potential return to the U.S. as residues on imported produce. The film tells stories of pesticide-related tragedies around the world and the subsequent efforts of activists and farmers to fight back.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

SP: I have to start by recognizing the pioneering investigative journalism of David Weir, who is featured in the film, and Mark Shapiro, who coined the term “circle of poison” with their eponymous book, published in 1980. It’s hard to believe that for-export-only pesticides and the circle of poison are still happening nearly 40 years later.

As someone who has done social-justice research and work for the last ten years, including the past several years focusing on food and environmental justice, this story really spoke to me. The fact that people in the U.S. are becoming more conscious about organic and local food is important in so many ways, and it provides an interested audience for this kind of film.

But what drew me to the circle-of-poison story wasn’t just the end of the circle — the U.S. consumers — but the communities, often impoverished and disenfranchised, who are impacted by this unethical U.S. policy, from the production of pesticides to the spraying in fields abroad. On the hopeful side, I was drawn to the farmers and activists around the world who are resisting the dominant narrative that the world needs pesticides and are growing safe, organic food that will sustain their families for generations.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

SP: I’d say the biggest challenge in making this film was having a limited time to film in each location. We knew we wanted to travel to several countries around the world so local farmers and activists could tell their stories, but we had to stretch our small budget — which was much easier to do as a three-person team — and maximize the time off from our other jobs to be able to do so.

We traveled to Argentina, Mexico, India and Bhutan, covering hundreds of miles within each country, so sometimes we only had a day with, say, an organic farmer who was really inspiring and would’ve been incredible to spend more time with. But I think what we did capture tells a compelling human story about the global issue from a range of important perspectives.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

SP: I really hope people feel the gravity of the issues raised in the film and also feel inspired to get involved on some level — whether it’s volunteering with or donating to one of these fabulous organizations represented in the film or simply voting for candidates who take these issues seriously.

Food-related films tend to emphasize making conscious choices as consumers about what’s on our plates — which is undoubtedly important — but I hope people think more broadly about questions of ethics and politics and justice. Maybe that’s too vague of an answer, but I don’t want people to simply leave the theater thinking that they should just buy organic because real change is not just about privileged consumer choices.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

SP: As a first-time filmmaker, I don’t really feel that I should be giving advice, but I can say that I think it’s important for female filmmakers to know their strengths and weaknesses and to surround themselves with a supportive team. I, like many women in this society, can tend toward self-doubt, but I had so much support in Evan, the film’s co-directer, and our editor Nick Capezzera, who both had the tremendous optimism and confidence that were needed to balance the team. I understand it’s a tough industry, so I’m thankful to be surrounded by people who are encouraging, and I think we should all seek out kind, genuine, positive people to work with.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

SP: We raised our initial funds and about one-third of the overall budget through Kickstarter. We were able to get some media exposure during that campaign and built a supportive community through their platform, which is of course one of many groundbreaking crowdfunding tools for independent filmmakers. Evan, Nick and I also started a film production company, “Player Piano Productions,” in New York City last year and used all profit from that work for the film’s post-production expenses.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

SP: I always have a hard time giving an answer to any question about favorites. In terms of documentary filmmakers, what instantly comes to mind is Laura Poitras and Linda Goode Bryant’s “Flag Wars.” I think I saw it in my first year of college in a Women’s Studies class, and it has stuck with me since, for the way they told a complicated story of social justice issues, of privilege and oppression and intersectionality.

I was inspired by the use of that film to educate in a college classroom, and of course Laura Poitras’ work is an ongoing example of the way filmmakers can use their work as tools for meaningful social change.

I think Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” is incredible for its creative, genre-bending documentary storytelling.

In terms of narrative film, I really love the emotion and vulnerability of Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.”

So, those are four favorites.

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