Following in the footsteps of her Marvel co-star Mark Ruffalo, actress-turned-filmmaker Ellen Page is funneling her considerable influence and resources into raising awareness around environmental justice. Last year, Ruffalo produced and starred in Todd Haynes’ under-appreciated “Dark Waters,” a narrative feature about the Dupont Teflon case. Since her breakout role in “Juno,” Page’s acting roles have always supported feminist perspectives. More recently, she also served as producer on films like “My Days of Mercy” and “Freeheld,” projects she also starred in that touched on issues surrounding incarceration and prison reform. Now, Page has stepped almost fully behind the camera, co-directing with pal Ian Daniel a timely and informative documentary about Nova Scotia’s history of environmental racism.
“There’s Something in the Water” borrows its title from the book on which is based, “There's Something In The Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities” by Ingrid R.G. Waldron. Using Waldron’s book as a guidepost, the film opens with Page reflections on growing up in Nova Scotia, complete with adorable baby photos and a sober voiceover. A clip of Page on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” from February of last year shows the actress calling out the impact of xenophobic leadership on marginalized communities. The film quickly focuses on Waldron to give a definition of environmental racism, a social justice term coined in the 1970s to highlight the disproportionate impact environmental injustice has on black, brown, and indigenous communities.
“Where you live has bearing in your well being,” Waldron says. “Your postal code determines your health.” In Nova Scotia, that means the black and indigenous communities who have born the brunt of harmful pollution, such as improper water treatment and toxic dump sites. The film is broken up into three sections, each focusing on a different site of environmental harm in Nova Scotia.
The first and most powerful of these stories is an African neighborhood in the town of Shelburne, which had the unfortunate distinction of housing the town dump for 75 years. The town once burned industrial, medical, and residential waste that blew directly into the neighborhood of primarily African Nova Scotian residents. Activist Louise Delisle serves as a sobering but affable guide to the community’s inflated rates of multiple myeloma. Louise leads the film’s most powerful scene, as she drives through the community pointing out every home housing a polluted well, people living with cancer, or — more often — people who died of cancer.
Somehow maintaining a gentle if serious disposition, Louise recalls growing up with the...