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River film evokes water protection discussion

The Miami River’ film creator Katja Esson holds a question and answer session Jan. 9 with others who made the film possible, including Samuel Tommie and Pedro Zepeda. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

FORT LAUDERDALE — A film screening at the Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale opened a conversation among more than 50 guests about the importance of water conservation.

Plenty of environmental subjects were brought to the table on Jan. 10 as part of an evening to celebrate and take action for water through art, cinema, and the community, especially with the night’s feature film, “The Miami River,” by filmmaker Katja Esson.

The feature film, part of a five-part series about American rivers, was first aired in Europe and premiered in the U.S. in Fort Lauderdale. The film explores Miami River’s history, its changing utilization, and its developing existence throughout decades. Subjects related to the river that were covered included gentrification, ancient burial sites, boating traffic, importing and exporting ships, existing businesses, drug trafficking, and pollution.

Tribal citizen Pedro Zepeda was also featured in the film carving a cypress dugout wooden canoe, a long lost tradition amongst Seminoles. As a recipient of the Knight Foundation’s Knight Art Grant, Zepeda carved the canoe live inside the Upper Room Art Gallery, established by host of the film event and gallery executive director Robin Haines Merrill.

The Upper Room Art Gallery is a nonprofit global collective of artists & designers whose artwork specializes in organic and recycled materials and who are concerned with global poverty, social justice and environmental issues.

Before the film’s screening, a prayer opening with Tribal citizen and environmental activist Samuel Tommie set the tone for the evening. Tommie played his flute while a short four-minute serene silent film he produced played in the background.

“I was there for a more spiritual aspect; water is spirit and we are connected to spirit,” Tommie said. “We will only understand part of its message when we include water in our mediations; when we experience water in our meditations, we become part of a much larger spiritual home.”

Samuel Tommie plays the flute at the Celebrate Water film screening in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 9. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

Tommie’s film gave the audience a sense of tranquility as it displayed a smooth transition from cypress trees to birds flying during his flute performance. His advocacy for peace in and outside of the Tribe is reflected through his work and he continues to fight for causes he believes in.

Shortly after the audience experienced Tommie’s dual artistic project, a creative music video of the Everglades, produced by Houston Cypress with local band Agape and singer Nadia Harris, was viewed.

“This film event was an opportunity to discuss important water quality issues using art as a catalyst,” Cypress said. “The diverse projects were able to give voice to many different communities including the indigenous, immigrants, and international perspectives.”

The evening evoked passion amongst activists, who attended the event not only to support the artistic movement surrounding ecological issues but to raise concerns about conservational issues facing the state, and it created an open dialogue during a question-and-answer session.

Tim Canova, a law professor and former candidate for Florida’s 23rd congressional district, shared his beliefs about preserving the Florida and South Florida Aquifers while the film touched on controversial local issues like the Sabal Trail and Florida Southeast Connection pipelines.

Aquifers are bodies of saturated rock through which water can easily move and are responsible for how water is received from the ground.

“If a sink hole happens, about 1.6 billion gallons of gas can get into the state’s aquifer,” Canova said. “The aquifer provides 60 percent of our drinking water.”

According to Canova, he delivered a petition with 90,000 signatures to Sen. Bill Nelson’s office in order to stop the construction of the Sabal Trail and Florida Southeast Connection pipelines.

“We need to be more conscious of how this can potentially affect us all,” he said.

Canova was adamant about environmental issues during his congressional campaign, specifically fracking problems. He continues to play a role in ecological concerns throughout the nation. He formed a group known as Progress for All that calls for strict regulation of Wall Street and predatory finance, an end to corporate subsidies, renewed public banking alternatives that meet all of society’s needs, and a revived public sector balanced with genuinely free markets to ensure a full employment economy that works for everyone, according to the group’s website.

“We need more events like this where different communities can come together and collaborate to achieve positive environmental results,” Cypress said.

An upcoming film screening of “The Miami River” will take place again on Feb. 19. from 12:30-3 p.m. at History Miami in downtown Miami at 101 W Flagler St. A reception will be held with light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, and two varieties of locally grown organic teas including a special lemongrass tea from a community garden in Broward and a tea made of wild foraged botanicals from the Everglades. Hard Rock is a sponsor. There will be a special panel of speakers and a question-and-answer session with with filmmaker Katja Esson, archeologist Robert Carr, and canoe carver Pedro Zepeda after the screening of the film. Admission is $20 at the door and can be purchased at