Film fest flares up fledgling firebrands 

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Sol Weiner and Tom Clement made "Swine Country" during their senior year at Guilford College.

by Brian Clarey

Q: How do you know if a Guilford College student is vegan?

A: If they don’t mention it in the first five minutes, they’re probably not.

It’s easy to make fun of the earnest, active and socially conscious students of Greensboro’s Quaker university, who I have seen become engaged in workers’ rights, police brutality, city elections, women’s issues, food justice, literacy, hunger, education… I could fill this entire space with causes espoused by the Triad’s most politically active student body. 

At Guilford, there are efforts to raise awareness, enact change and take it to the streets just about every day of the week. Our associate editor Eric Ginsburg even minored in something called “Community & Justice Studies,” which, believe it or not, isn’t the same thing as the Peace & Conflict Studies department. It’s what they do instead of frat parties, as I understand it. Even the posers show up at the protests, even if it’s just to check out the chicks.

More than 100 of them filled out the Carolina Theatre this weekend, during the good meat of a Friday night, to watch three or four hours of films about the environment, perhaps the Queen Mother of all social issues.

Q: How many Guilford College students does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Two. One to change the bulb, and the other to say, “Dude, I can’t believe you’re still using incandescent bulbs.”

Guilford College doesn’t have a keg team — unlike my own university — but they do have a new Cape Fear River Basin Studies Program. And it was a natural for them to partner with the alumni association to book a screening of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, a traveling show of documentary shorts about environmentalism, with emphasis on water rights, and even more appropriate to tack on a screening of “Swine Country,” a chilling film about hog waste in our state by Guilford seniors Tom Clement and Sol Weiner.

Professor Maia Dery is as popular as a rock star among the green crowd at Guilford, who cheered her entrance as the evening began. She dropped a little knowledge — many of Greensboro’s creek systems are on the federal impaired waters list — before the lights dimmed and the activists gorged on the environmentalist equivalent of red meat.

The first short of the night, “I am Red,” a beautiful poem attributed to the Colorado River, set the bar a little too high for the next few, some of which were spots for the Brower Youth Awards, honoring kids who change their communities, one of which played like “The Californians” sketch from “SNL.”

At intermission, in a very Guilford College moment, Omega R. Wilson of the West End Revitalization Association took the stage to give an activist update: The day before Daria Neal, a Guilford grad now working for the civil rights division of the Justice Department in Washington, DC, sent him an email about a new federal website that pertains to “the intersection of environmental justice issues and enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act….” Wilson explained that victims of environmental racism — say, residents of a black neighborhood where a recipient of federal funds wanted to open a landfill — could sue for redress under Title VI.

The night’s highlight was “Swine Country,” both for its impact in tackling an issue that is happening right here in our state, and also because of its urgent and timeless message: Big corporate interests are taking over at the expense of everybody else, and making a fortune off it.

The numbers are astonishing, too. You wouldn’t believe how much pig excrement is produced in North Carolina.