Press


 In Print:

Tony Kiss (Oct. 2012) "Asheville filmmakers work for passion," Asheville Citizen-Times

Dorothy Foltz-Gray (Jan. 2014)  "Watered Down," Bold Life Magazine

Angie Lewis (July 2014) "Because She Cannes Cannes Cannes" UCF Alumni Spotlight

Alli Marshal (May 16, 2014) "Cannes or Bust" Mountain Xpress

Dan Thornton (Dec. 2013) "A Look at Filmmaker Katie Damien" Gig Spotting Network

Movie Reviews:

Edwin Arnaudin (May 2014) "'My Toxic Backyard,' Asheville CTS tale" Asheville Citizen-Times

Ken Hanke (May 2014) "My Toxic Backyard," Mountain Xpress

Stephen Roux (Feb. 2014) "Review: My Toxic Backyard," Denton Dallas and Beyond

Dan Thornton (2013). "Documentary Review," Gig Spotting Network

Paul Busetti (2015) "My Toxic Backyard," Rouge Cinema



TV:

 "CTS Documentary" ABC13, WLOS, news coverage (May 10, 2014)


 "International Acclaim" ABC13, WLOS, news coverage (Dec. 16, 2013)


"Locally Produced Film" ABC13, WLOS, news coverage (Dec. 24, 2013)
 


 "CTS Documentary" ABC13, WLOS, news coverage (Dec 19, 2011)


 "Film Project Winners Asheville" ABC13, WLOS, news coverage (July 02, 2010)


Radio:

Arts Radio Interview: Southern Circuit
September 14th, 2014, WLRN by Caroline Breder-Watts

The Revolution: Cannes Interview part 2
August 2014, 880AM by Jeff Messer

The Revolution: Cannes Interview part 1
June 2014, 880AM by Jeff Messer

The Revolution: My Toxic Backyard
Jan 2014, 880AM by Jeff Messer

The Revolution: Gorilla with a Mustache Films going to Cannes Film Fest
Dec 2013, 880AM by Jeff Messer

The Revolution: Gorilla with a Mustache Films wins top 15

Dec 2013, 880AM by Jeff Messer

Morning Edition: Interview with Asheville Filmmaker, Katie Damien 








Complete Bibliography:

M. Puffer-Rothenberg (2015) "My Toxic Backyard," Video Librarian

Paul Busetti (2015) "My Toxic Backyard," Rouge Cinema

Laura Traister (September 2014) "Documentary about Toxins" East Tennessean

Lise Cutshaw (September 2014) "Film: My Toxic Backyard" ETSU Martin School Event

Angie Lewis (July 2014) "Because She Cannes Cannes Cannes" UCF Alumni Spotlight

Alli Marshal (May 16, 2014) "Cannes or Bust" Mountain Xpress

Edwin Arnaudin (May 2014) "Movie review: 'My Toxic Backyard,' Asheville CTS tale" Asheville Citizen-Times

Ken Hanke (May 2014) "My Toxic Backyard," Mountain Xpress

Stephen Roux (Feb. 2014) "Review: My Toxic Backyard," Denton Dallas and Beyond

Dorothy Foltz-Gray (Jan. 2014)  "Watered Down," Bold Life Magazine

Dan Thornton (2013). "Documentary Review," Gig Spotting Network

Dan Thornton (Dec. 2013) "A Look at Filmmaker Katie Damien" Gig Spotting Network

Carol Motsinger (Dec.Local film production company wins national film award,"

Alli Marshall (Dec. 2013) "The 2013 National Film Challenge seeks audience votes,"
Mountain Express

Jason Sandford (Dec. 2013) "Asheville filmmakers win big in National Film Challenge, will have movie screened at Cannes," Ashevegas 

Tony Kiss (Oct. 2012) "Asheville filmmakers work for passion," Asheville Citizen-Times

Jeff Davis (2012). "What’s in your backyard?" Go Green America

Justin Souther (2012). Gorilla With a Mustache goes long. Mountain Express  



Review: My Toxic Backyard
By M. Puffer-Rothenberg on December 29, 2015

My Toxic Backyard ***1/2
(2014) 53 min. DVD: $17.99. DRA. KD Multimedia (avail. from www.amazon.com).
Katie Damien’s documentary centers on a community in South Asheville, NC, where the drinking water is contaminated with deadly chemical runoff from a manufacturing plant that was abandoned decades ago. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has designated the former CTS Corporation plant a “Superfund” site—among the most toxic places in the U.S.—neither the EPA nor CTS has tried to contain the waste or provide safe drinking water to surrounding areas. In fact, the EPA documented high levels of the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE) but didn’t inform residents for years, even as dozens died of cancer. Given that their drinking water and even the air itself were fatally toxic, locals expected a cleanup. But the EPA responded with community meetings that were apparently designed to pacify homeowners, and the agency recommended endless re-evaluation and testing. Some of those interviewed believe themselves to be under government surveillance; they talk about evidence that the EPA not only dropped the ball but also withheld information, tried to obscure the link between TCE and the old CTS facility, and generally knuckled under to a wealthy multinational corporation. Damien uses an animated aerial map to show a shocking number of local fatalities, pointing out that the area is still under development, with new housing going up and being marketed to unsuspecting retirees. Frightening, suspenseful, and saddening (as Damien notes, one in four Americans lives within four miles of a Superfund site), this sobering documentary is highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (M. Puffer-Rothenberg)

 


Review: My Toxic Backyard
By Paul Busetti on March 10, 2015

In the late 90s, there was a boom in the David vs. Goliath subgenre of courtroom drama. Usually aimed at faceless, negligent corporations guilty of poisoning the environment, they were epitomized by films such as “The Rainmaker”, “Erin Brockovich”, and “A Civil Action”. Every one of them had scenes of lawyers meeting with the victims. They are always portrayed as destitute families in decaying houses. Their bodies decimated by the side effects of the contamination. The documentary “My Toxic Backyard” shows these families as they really exist.

Katie Damian’s film studies the residents of Asheville, North Carolina and more specifically those living within the 1 mile radius of an abandoned CTS Corporation manufacturing plant. While operational, the plant was guilty of dumping toxic chemicals, specifically trichloroethylene (an industrial solvent responsible for the true life story “A Civil Action” is based upon), contaminating the town’s water supply. The film opens with Asheville resident and father Aaron Peland watching a home movie and lamenting all the family members lost to cancer whose voices remain only on the recording. Since the closing of the plant, there have been over 70 reported cases of within that 1 mile radius. Cancer hangs over every townsperson and the entire film. So common that its eminent threat is mentioned with the nonchalance of getting a toothache. The area in Asheville is one of over 4000 “Superfund” sites in the US. Contaminated areas allotted money by the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup. However, the process proves to be long and convoluted.

Damian’s filmmaking style recalls the grace of Barbara Kopple’s companion films “Harlan County USA” & “American Dream”. The townspeople are shown to be noble and intelligent.  Since moving is not an option, they are forced to become experts in the law and the sluggish process to hold CTS accountable.  Like children of a neglectful father, they have banded together against a common enemy. Considering the mounting death toll, they are remarkably calm and focused in their anger. All parties agree the situation demands attention, but the question of “when” goes frustratingly unanswered throughout the film.

No CTS corporation representative is ever interviewed in the film. No corporate office is invaded. No shareholder meeting interrupted. This is not that kind of documentary. This is a profile of people who just want what is fair. They aren’t looking for a fat settlement. They just want clean drinking water for their children and to be healthy enough to watch them grow up.


Documentary about toxins leaking into a community’s drinking water will be shown Sept. 22

By Laura Traister
On September 17, 2014
The Mary B. Martin School of the Arts is sponsoring a screening of “My Toxic Backyard,” a documentary about a small community fighting for clean drinking water.
The screening will take place on Sept. 22, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker.
The film recounts the struggles of residents of a community in South Asheville, N.C., who discover that an old manufacturing plant is leaking toxins into their drinking water.
Filmmaker Katie Damien has lived in Asheville for about 10 years but began making videos during her childhood in Florida.
“I started making movies when I was around 12 years old and just fell in love with it,” she said. “I have been making movies ever since.  It’s a way of storytelling that I love.”
While “My Toxic Backyard” is her first feature film, Damien has worked on about a dozen short films from different genres.
She mainly writes, directs and produces but occasionally works as a cinematographer or editor. She says she could not have completed this project without the assistance of Jaime Byrd, the co-writer, associate producer and editor of the documentary.
Damien discovered the contamination problem while searching to buy a house in South Asheville about five years ago. She was excited about the homes a realtor had shown her, but a friend of hers warned her that something in the water was making residents sick.
She stopped looking for a house in that area and began looking for answers. Due to media coverage, the contamination was not a secret, but Damien had somehow never heard about the problem. She was disturbed that she had not received warnings from her realtor or anyone else.
“I felt like I had dodged a bullet, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people still living out there who weren’t as lucky. That’s when I started making the documentary.  It was just a story that needed to be told,” she said. “I consider myself a fairly environmentally savvy person, but there was just so much I didn’t know or didn’t understand.  I thought, if I don’t know all this stuff, what about the average person who isn’t keyed into environmental issues?  Most of my work in film is meant to entertain, but with this documentary, I feel like I have the unique opportunity to make a difference.”
The film is already well on its way to making a difference. It was accepted to the Thin Line Film Festival in Texas and recently won the title of Best Documentary Film at the Greenpoint Film Festival in New York.
In addition, Damien is participating in the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, which consists of 10 days of travelling across five states, including Tennessee.
“I can take the film so many places and have discussions with groups of people.  The purpose of this film is to raise awareness and I can’t think of a better way to do that.”
The screening and discussion will take place at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium in the D.P Culp University Center.
The event is free and open to the public.


Film: "My Toxic Backyard"




JOHNSON CITY (September 18, 2014) – The phrase ‘Don’t drink the water’ is hitting close to home with an award-winning documentary that focuses on a Superfund site in nearby Asheville.
The Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at East Tennessee State University willpresent “My Toxic Backyard” with filmmaker Katie Damien as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers on Monday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium.
Following a screening of the film, producer and director Damien will engage the audience in a discussion about the film and her work as a filmmaker. A reception with the filmmaker will follow the question-answer session. The film and reception are free and open to the public.

“My Toxic Backyard” chronicles an Asheville community’s fight for clean drinking water as the contaminated soil of an old manufacturing plant continues to leak carcinogens into their water more than 20 years after the threat was first reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. Through investigative reporting and in-depth interviews, Damien’s film dredges up the sludge that accumulates after decades of inaction.

Damien’s first encounter with the toxic soil occurred while she was seeking a new home in the Asheville area. She was shocked when a friend said, “There’s something bad in the water out there.” That information sparked Damien’s interest.
“I felt like I had dodged a bullet, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people still living out there who weren’t as lucky,” Damien says.

The CTS Corp. Superfund site was ranked among the worst contaminated sites in the nation, yet now there are more than 100 homes within one mile of the site.
Residents in the area have been drinking high levels of contaminated water for years not knowing it’s the water that has been making them sick, and “My Toxic Backyard” documents the stories of many families struggling with the effects of the contamination.
“It’s very timely. It’s in our neighborhood, so I think it’s an important topic for us to discuss, because these kinds of things can happen anywhere and do happen in a lot of communities,” says Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.
The film “plays well to anyone for whom injustice strikes a nerve,” says “The Asheville Citizen-Times.”

Jeff Thomas from the not-for-profit Go Green America organization said “stories like this one need to be told.”
Filmmaker Damien, an award-winning filmmaker with a bachelor’s degree in film production from the University of Central Florida, lives in Asheville, the community chronicled in her film. “My Toxic Backyard” is her first feature documentary and was supported through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

To find out more about the film, visit www.mytoxicbackyard.com.

The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. South Arts, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit regional arts organization building on the South's unique heritage and enhancing the public value of the arts. Their work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective through an annual portfolio of activities designed to address the role of the arts in impacting the issues important to our region, and linking the South with the nation and the world through the arts.

For information about the film, film series or the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call 423-439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin.



Because She Cannes Cannes Cannes

Alumna's short film honored at world's most prestigious festival
By Angie Lewis, '03
Growing up in a family of movie buffs and watching the Oscars every year, it seemed Katie Damien, '01, was predestined for a future in film. In fact, she made her first movie when she was 12 years old. And, she hasn't stopped making movies since. Born and raised in Florida, Damien chose to attend UCF because, in her opinion, it had the best film program in the state.

"Film students could direct their own work, they got to keep all the rights to their films, and Orlando is the perfect place to be for filmmaking, with all the studios nearby and the city being so production friendly," she explains. "'The Blair Witch Project' had just come out, and UCF's film program was the place to be."

Today, she's the owner of Kd Multimedia, a writer and director, and one of five producers in Gorilla with a Mustache Films.  Damien started the film company with a team of filmmakers she joined in 2010, in order to compete in the 48 Hour Film Project. After winning the competition's top prize for their short film, "Touched by Angels," they decided to make more movies together.

Last year, the group competed in the National Film Challenge. But, instead of competing against other local filmmakers, they were competing with filmmakers around the world. In addition, each team was assigned a genre, a character, a prop and line of dialogue that had to be used in its film.

After a long session of brainstorming, one of Damien's teammates told a story about a friend who rented a car and ended up with the same make and model someone else at the agency had already rented. He didn't realize he drove off with the wrong car — until he stopped, opened the trunk and found it full of drugs. So, it got them thinking: What would you do if you suddenly found yourself accidentally in possession of a bunch of drugs? And, again, the group won for its short film, "Joint Effort."

"I was out of my mind excited [when I learned we won]," Damien says. "I was screaming on the phone with the other members of my team. I was in an office full of people when I found out, and they all started to gather around as I was jumping up and down, screaming like a fool."

But, the excitement didn't stop there. The National Film Challenge win sent their film to the Short Film Corner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
"I knew that Cannes was the top prize, [but] I had to get on a computer real quick and look for myself to make sure it was true," Damien continues. "When I saw the win with my own eyes, that's when the screaming started [again]."

Not surprisingly, Damien's biggest dream is to some day win an Oscar.
"But, in the immediate future," she says, "I'd just like to have a big enough budget that I can do all the things I want to in a given movie, and be able to pay all my cast and crew properly."

Q&A Reel

Q. Who was your favorite professor, and why?
A. Sterling Van Wagenen was the director of the film program when I was there. He also taught a directing class that I took. He was amazing. It wasn't just the knowledge he imparted or the extremely helpful real-world advice he would give, but he had a soothing demeanor about him. He had a way of squeezing your shoulder that just made you feel like everything would be okay. And for a stressed-out film student, sometimes a shoulder squeeze was exactly what you needed. Mary Johnson was a fantastic screenwriting teacher! I still use her template for creating characters when I write scripts. Mark Gerstein and Lori Ingle were also amazing editing teachers. I learned so much from them. And, I can't skip Jonathan Mednick, my documentary film teacher. He gave me the best advice my senior year. I was working on a short documentary, and he watched it as a work-in-progress and told me: "Make it about the people. Tell their story and the rest will fall into place." He died suddenly and unexpectedly that summer. I will always carry those words with me. 
Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Having a film degree, while not essential in this industry, has certainly opened a lot of doors for me. I think the quality of the education I received helped boost the professionalism of my work by leaps and bounds. I was able to try new and difficult things, take risks and fail, all without losing credibility, because I was in a supportive learning environment.

Q. Describe some of your previous films.
A. I'm just now releasing my first documentary feature film, "My Toxic Backyard," about a community that has been fighting for clean, safe drinking water for decades since it discovered its water was contaminated by an old manufacturing plant where toxic chemicals were dumped into the ground. I've made a few comedy films — one comedy/horror about a vampire with a toothache. I made a short drama, "Second Parent," about how gay parents can't jointly adopt a child. And, I made a horror film about a couple that accidentally runs over a guy with their car and soon find themselves victims of an elaborate scheme.

Q. Are you currently working on any other film projects?
A. I'm currently in post-production on my first comedy feature film with the same group I made "Joint Effort." It's called "One Hell of an Angel," and it's about a demon who gets in trouble for asking too many questions in hell and is punished by being forced to work with an angel on an impossible mission to get a washed up rock star to write a song that will change everything.

Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. "Strictly Ballroom"

Q. Worst movie you've ever seen?
A. The first movie I ever made as a kid. It was so bad I destroyed it.

Q. Favorite movie genre?
A. Action

Q. If someone made a movie about your life, what would the title be?
A. "The Mad World of a Creative Mind"

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. In the film world, Robert Zemeckis. That man can make any kind of movie and make it well.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Beer taster. I've heard that's a thing...


Cannes or bust: Local filmmakers report on their trip to the prestigious film festival

Alli Marshal, May 16, 2014

Local filmmakers Katie Damien and Lela Winton are part of the Gorilla with a Mustache Films crew who attended the Cannes Film Festival (yes, the one in France) to screen their short comedy, Joint Effort.

The group spent a week in that glamorous locale, taking in wonderful films, eating French food, imbibing champagne and rubbing elbows with celebs. Damien and Winton sent back updates — e-postcards, if you will. See info on the film at the bottom of the page.

———

May 24 
On this, my final day at Cannes I find myself reminiscing over the time I’ve had. It all feels like a wonderful dream that I don’t want to wake up from. I’ve had drinks on a yacht, crashed parties, met celebrities, seen amazing movies and walked the red carpet. And I’ve made so many great contacts in my time here. Today was a day of movie watching. I saw tons of short films and made it to the last feature film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigsby. I could not have hoped for a better experience here. I am now full of excellent food, Wine and wonderful memories. When I get home I will begin contacting the many people I’ve met here. I hope that every filmmaker has the opportunity make it to the Cannes Film Festival. And I hope to return again soon. — Katie

———

May 23 
Tonight is the 20th anniversary of Pulp Fiction winning the Palm D’Or at Cannes. We celebrated with Tarantino, Thurman, Travolta and Weinstein on the beach at a special screening — so fun! Cannes does these great free beach screenings every night but the special screening of Pulp Fiction was something special. The crowd was ecstatic. People were shouting favorite lines, cheering, whooping and laughing loud together. I could just barley see Quentin Tarantino from where I sat and he seemed just as excited as ever to be showing his film to a crowd. Most of the festival attendees have packed up and left so there was not a whole lot of work getting done today. Katie and I broke into the press conference area though for some great photos (see above). — Lela

• • •

Things are really starting to wind down for the Cannes Film Festival. Lela and I went to the Marche du film, but found it fairly sparse. After playing around in the press conference area, we decided to do a little sightseeing. And who should we meet at the top of the tower at a museum, but the very people we were looking for earlier: film distributors (below). We exchanged cards and even showed them our trailer on the iPad we are always carrying around. We ended the day with a beach screening of Pulp Fiction introduced by none other than Quentin Tarantino. It was a great end to a great day. — Katie

————

May 22
Today a young Frenchwoman (named Alice, pictured below) accidentally spilled her wine all over Lela’s dress. By way of apology, she got us two tickets to a red carpet screening premiere with celebrities in attendance. When Lela and I went on the red carpet before, it was early in the day and there were no celebrities or photographers around. This was the real deal. It was all at the last minute, and because I wasn’t expecting it, I was not properly dressed. I had to literally run to the apartment and back to get there in time. I put on my Ship to Shore dress again in record time. — Katie

———

May 21 
Spent a great day with David and Tina in nearby Antibes while Billy Goodrum did photo shoots, dinners, press functions, etc. I finally got to wear my Ship to Shore dress for a screening. I turned many a head in it.

At the end of the day Lela and I reconnected with our esteemed composer Billy Goodrum who you can see in red carpet photos standing next to Sophia Loren! I didn’t get to chat with her, but did speak with her director son who is charming and very nice even though he must have been exhausted. Billy, Lela and I went for drinks with the George Clooney of Italy, Enrico Lo Verso [see photo at top of page]. Oh la la was he handsome! And so chivalrous, too. He escorted Lela and me home after he broke up a bar fight. What a man. — Katie

May 20 
Today we screened Joint Effort for a packed theater. People laughed and seemed to enjoy the movie. It was great to have David Ostergaard and Tina Herring join us, as well as Billy Goodrum, our composer. Billy also had another movie screening at Cannes. Lela and I went to his other screening, where Sophia Loren attended. She is amazingly beautiful at any age! A full and wonderful day. — Katie

———

May 19 
The most exciting thing that happened today was running into Benicio Del Toro on the street! Then chasing after him and grabbing a quick selfie. He was just so cool. Today was my first day to walk the red carpet. Lela and I had to wait in the rain on the off chance there was extra space in an afternoon screening. We were lucky enough to get into a screening of Foxcatcher. Excellent movie. I have never seen Steve Carell in that type of dark role and he was amazing. The screening was in the middle of the day so there were no stars around to join us in our walk up but still very thrilling to be walking on the red carpet for the first time. — Katie

Editor’s note: Read Entertainment Weekly‘s take on Foxcatcher here.

———

May 18 
I can’t believe it’s only been a few days — I’m starting to loose track. I’ve done so many amazing things at the Cannes Film Festival. Today, on a whim, Lela and I walked past the rows of multimillion dollar yachts looking for a man I flew in with who invited me aboard his yacht for drink. It was a very casual invitation and I wasn’t sure if we would ever actually be able to connect. Not only did he have us come aboard for drinks, but we met other amazing filmmakers, distributors and even a reporter from CNN. We had an amazing lunch followed by cheesecake and the strongest thimbleful of espresso I have ever had. We shared stories and screened a short film by one of the filmmakers. It was a phenomenal afternoon with a fabulous host! — Katie

•••

Third day here at Cannes. Started out great with a red carpet screening of Tommy Lee Jones’s new movie called The Homesman, also staring Hilary Swank. It was a pretty good film over all, though not as good as True Grit, from a few years ago, which it was strikingly similar to. After a huge tank drove down the road with the entire all-star cast of The Expendables 3 sitting on top, drawing all the tourists out to the Coisette and making walking much easier, we then moved onto a great afternoon on a swanky yacht with lots of big movie professionals. Today was full of delicious food and delightful company. Even a few good films thrown and for good measure. More tomorrow! — Lela

———–

May 17 
Hi Asheville! Having a great time here at the Cannes film Festival. Today I got my first pass to a grand theater premier: The Homesman by Tommy Lee Jones. His directorial debut! It’s screening tomorrow morning, so wish me luck. The festival is huge and busy with people everywhere. The Mediterranean Sea is beautiful and incredibly blue. There are people from all over the world and the hotels really know how to do it up in style! Last night I went to a cocktail party at the Thailand pavilion and had some great food and conversation. Our screening for Tuesday is filling up with 70% of the seats already accounted for. Still have seven days to go at the festival, and have seen quite a few stars and directors. Really looking forward to meeting more people. Tonight we are going to a cocktail party on a quarter billion dollar yacht. #excited! — Lela

•••

The big news of the day was the two parties we crashed at night. Lela and I went to a party hosted by Thailand. It was by invitation only and we were lucky enough to score two invitations standing in line! The princess of Thailand was there, there were live performances and films shown. We sipped our drinks and ate fantastic Thai food. Then it was off to the next big party of the night, hosted by Germany. We did not have invitations and were nearly stopped by security but somehow managed to finagle our way in. We hobnobbed with German filmmakers for a while, then strolled past the yachts before calling it a night. — Katie

•••

Had an amazing night. Started off the evening meeting some great filmmakers who hooked us up with a gentleman who got us in to the Thai national films party. It was a huge deal — very exclusive. Only about 100 people got in. Her Royal Highness the princess of Thailand was there and gave a talk and then there was a live film/Thai boxing demonstration, drinks and food. It was amazing! Then we casually snuck into a beach party for the German film commission. It was a huge party and also very exclusive. After the German Party we headed out to yacht row. The yachts were bumping with parties. Someone mistook me for a star and introduced me to their group as if I was Amy Adams. Now we are back at our apartment getting ready to sleep, because I have a red carpet screening tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. for The Homesman by Tommy Lee Jones. — Lela

———

May 16 
Flying in, I had a bit of an ordeal with getting to France. But it turned out to be a match made in heaven when I flew from London straight into Nice. On my flight [I] saw not only Guy Pierce (who probably would have been completely cool but I was too intimidated by to even approach) but also Matt Smith — the new Dr. Who — who was super friendly and awesome. He was much more approachable, so [below] is his photo. Very nice guy. Finally [to] Cannes and completely jetlagged … will have more tomorrow. — Katie

———–

May 14 
Here’s Damien’s first missive, sent as she was heading out of town: I wanted to get an early start here because I have some Asheville folks to thank before I jet off. My flight is this afternoon. “For the red carpet, I have on loan a beautiful dress made by local designer R. Brooke Priddy with Ship to Shore. For make up I went to Zack Russell with Makeup at the Grove Arcade and got some fantastic tips, guidance, a whole makeover I wasn’t expecting and great makeup that I’ll be wearing in Cannes.

———

More about the project, from a press release: Asheville based Gorilla with a Mustache Films heads to Cannes Film Festival in France this month to screen their internationally acclaimed comedy short, Joint Effort. Winner of the 2013 National Film Challenge, this comedy short tells the story of a gay couple who mistakenly assume they have been mailed a box of marijuana: hilarity ensues. Joint Effort will be represented by two members of Gorilla with a Mustache Films, Director Katie Damien, a five time Emmy award winning Director based here in Asheville, whose recently released documentary, My Toxic Backyard, chronicles the story of the CTS site in Buncombe County, and local Producer Lela Winton.

Cannes is one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. Attendance is by invitation only. To earn the honor to screen at Cannes, Joint Effort competed internationally and won Best Picture, along with Best Writing for local writers Eruch Adams and Will Eill, and Best Actor for the accomplished local actor and Emmy winner David Ostergaard of Bright Star Theater, who also travels to attend the screening.

Local film buffs should keep their eyes peeled for the Gorillas feature film One Hell of An Angel currently in post-production and slated for release later this year. About Gorilla with a Mustache Films Gorilla with a Mustache Films is a production team based out of Asheville, North Carolina. Originally envisioned by Producer Lela Winton, their diverse crew includes Director Katie Damien, Actor Matt Shepard, and husband-wife Writer team Eruch Adams and Coranna Adams.


My Toxic Backyard

Ken Hanke on

Movie Information

The Story: Documentary about the local fight to get the old CTS manufacturing plant cleaned up. The issue is ongoing — two decades after the problem was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Lowdown: Strong, sharply focused, straightforward activist documentary that allows its anger to be simply conveyed by amassing the facts and letting those directly impacted speak for themselves. Gets in and does the job with admirable speed.

Score:
****
Genre:
Documentary
Director:
Katie Damien
Starring:
Tate MacQueen, Aaron Penland, Dot Rice
Rated:
NR

Interest should run high for My Toxic Backyard. It’s a locally made documentary about a local and timely problem — the long-standing issue of getting the old CTS plant cleaned up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is the kind of activist documentary that could easily have gone wrong in so many ways. It could have been unfocused and angry. It could have — as is the nature of most documentaries — gone on far too long after it had made its point. But director Katie Damien navigated these potential pitfalls and has delivered — with the aid of such other local talent as filmmakers Jaime Byrd, David Saich and composer Jason Smith — a straightforward film that builds its case methodically and coolly with little editorializing. It channels its anger through the voices of those affected by the cancer-causing pollutants still being filtered into the soil by the long-abandoned plant. For that matter, after years of fighting the battle and losing loved ones along the way, much of their anger and frustration has turned to sadness. It is this sadness — and determination — that fuels the viewer’s ire. For such a simple film, My Toxic Backyard manages to be both powerful and graceful.

Intriguingly, the project was a long-gestating one that began when Damien was looking for a home and discovered that housing in the Mills Gap area near the site was unusually affordable. The reason for this was soon apparent and caused Damien to look elsewhere, but the story continued to haunt her — leading to this film. That’s actually fitting, since the story itself has been going on for 20 years — two decades of efforts and legal battles to get the EPA to do something about the site and its spreading pollution. It’s a disturbing, frustrating and infuriating tale that is well told — and worth your time for the issue, for the film itself and, yes, for the support of local filmmaking. Not Rated


Movie review: 'My Toxic Backyard,' Asheville CTS tale

 Edwin Arnaudin, May 2014

Covering citizens' inspirational efforts to get their area cleaned up and corporations dodging crimes that individuals cannot, "My Toxic Backyard" accomplishes its mission without being preachy.

As a capsule history of South Asheville's CTS Superfund site and its detrimental impact on residents in the Mills Gap Road area, "My Toxic Backyard" is a Grade A success.
Directed by local filmmaker Katie Damien, the documentary is the kind of concise, informative work with local and national implications that plays well to anyone for whom injustices strike a nerve. The film is showing in Asheville once a day May 8-15 (see box).
Chronicling this troubling tale, the film's ominous tone is set early by Aaron Penland, who provides a guided tour of a home movie from 1986. Penland dubs it a "death video," and the sight of his numerous relatives who lived in the community and have since died of cancer is an immediate attention grabber. The haunting aerial Google Map imagery of 74 cancer cases within a mile of the plant only adds to the horror.

With copious facts about contaminated drinking water and many personal histories of those affected, the film's 53 minutes flow well, and Jaime Byrd's smart editing keeps the storytelling engaging. Damien presents this information and expert testimony in an easy-to-follow fashion that's further aided by consistently clear audio.

Cued to Jason Smith's melancholy, piano-heavy score, "My Toxic Backyard" employs a professional mix of talking heads and scenic shots and following in the footsteps of great documentaries, the film grounds itself with not one but two charismatic subjects in Penland and Tate MacQueen. Returning to them frequently, Damien wisely lets their personalities guide the story, which towers with humanity whenever they're on screen.

"My Toxic Backyard" is, however, a decidedly independent film and at times its shoestring budget is apparent. Though Damien's photography is generally clean, there are a few notable lighting issues, and while the occasional use of graphics are workable, they lack the slickness of a studio-funded project.

Still, the story being told doesn't require much flashiness, and after firmly establishing the film's heroes, simply letting the camera roll at community meetings and capturing fired-up citizens berating the EPA employees who have failed them is plenty powerful.
Artful, quieter scenes of family life poetically highlight the CTS blunder's ongoing impact and each time someone drinks water or children run through a sprinkler, one's skin crawls for fear of the consequences.

Packed with citizens' inspirational efforts to get their area cleaned up and raising issues of corporations dodging crimes that individuals cannot, "My Toxic Backyard" accomplishes its mission without being preachy.

With the CTS case currently before the Supreme Court, Damien's film is a fine primer of a local hot-button issue and firmly establishes her as a filmmaker to watch.

Grade: B-plus. Not rated.



























A Review of: My Toxic Backyard


Denton Texas recently hosted the Thin Line Film and Music festival. This event boasted and array of high quality films across a multitude of subject areas. My Toxic Backyard was most certainly a standout. Katie Damien, filmmaker and North Carolina resident, wove a captivating tale of industrial negligence perpetrated on the residence of Asheville. Although this film focuses on the residents of North Carolina, the issue of toxic contamination hits close to home for many. Data cited by state and federal organizations indicate that 1 in 4 Americans live within miles of a toxic Superfund Site.

My Toxic Backyard provides a powerful narrative on the rising and disproportionate cancer rates in the Asheville area. The portrayal of the townspeople’s frustration with federal agencies’ inaction and the generational loss of life suffered by families in the area were truly moving. Damien navigates this emotionally laden topic with the precision of a seasoned professional. She allowed the story to unfold organically from the point of view of the residents. The filmmaker’s decision to avoid leading questions or assertions in the absence of data added significant credibility to the story. This documentary is an important statement on not only industrial neglect, but also the power and resiliency of a town that refused to allow their story to be ignored.

-Stephen Roux
Denton Dallas and Beyond



Watered Down

BY DOROTHY FOLTZ-GRAY

Katie Damien surveys the Superfund site, that is the subject of her documentary, My Toxic Backyard, from across the street.

Katie Damien surveys the Superfund site, that is the subject of her documentary, My Toxic Backyard, from across the street.
Photo by Rimas Zailskas
Five years ago, filmmaker Katie Damien searched for a home to buy in South Asheville off Mills Gap Road. "Prices were so much lower than in other places in Asheville," says Damien, a five-time Southeast Regional Emmy winner. "But my friend said, 'Don't buy there. There's something wrong: People are getting cancer.' I stopped looking, but I couldn't stop thinking about the people living there. It haunted me."
The haunting resulted in Damien's first feature-length film, My Toxic Backyard, an hour-long documentary about the South Asheville Superfund site leaking toxic chemicals into the ground water surrounding the area.

CTS Corporation, a global manufacturer of electronic components, purchased the site in 1959, closing it in 1986. But the Environmental Protection Agency did not name it a Superfund site until 2012. The Superfund was established in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund) into law. The law enables the EPA to clean up hazardous waste sites.

The EPA first assessed the Asheville site in 1985, finding no evidence of contamination. In 1991, CTS itself notified the state of contamination, but EPA again signed off on the site. Residents believe that 74 cases of cancer have occurred with a mile of the site. And residents' complaints have kept EPA returning, each time finding more evidence of toxins in the ground water.

Damien's film focuses on several affected families: Aaron Penland, who opens the film by pointing to family members, victims of cancer appearing in a family movie, "a death video," he says; Tate MacQueen who moved his family into a tiny apartment to get them away from the water; and Shannon Mead whose constant illness forced her to miss the first seven years of her first child's life.


As the film proceeds, Damien highlights community meetings with EPA officials who appear puzzled by the residents' anger. She alternates such scenes with alarming pictures of toddlers running in sprinklers or drinking from icy water glasses.

Damien toiled on the film for five years, completing it in December 2013. "I thought it was going to be a one-year project," says Damien. "But I was shooting, editing, and doing the research and audio by myself."
For the final year, she was joined by others, including the film's editor, Jamie Byrd, also a filmmaker. "I was so tired, and I had collected so many interviews and so much information," says Damien. "Jamie breathed new life into the project. I was trying to pack in information, but she is more about heart and telling people's stories."

Damien invested more than $10,000 of her own to buy equipment she needed. And she raised $5,000 through Kickstarter, an organization that allows supporters to pledge money for creative work in return for small rewards such as a free ticket to a screening.

Now, she's busy submitting the film to festivals, accepted so far by The Thin Line Festival in Denton, Texas. And she's sending copies to state legislators who are deciding whether to loan Asheville the money to connect affected families to city water.
Damien wants the film to stir up questions about what's happening in our own back yards. "I feel like the society is so concerned about the economy, saying 'We'll deal with the environment once the economy comes back,'" she says. "But the longer we wait, the worse the environment will get."

Damien doesn't begrudge the money she's spent on the film: "Everyone contributed more than they were paid," she says. Besides, she didn't get into filmmaking to make money but to fuel her early passion. "I started when I was 12, making plays with my sister and cousins. And then my uncle gave me a movie camera. My first film was so bad I erased it, but I had so much fun. I thought, 'This is what I will do for the rest of my life.'"

After high school, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida native headed to the University of Central Florida, a place where film students can direct their own projects. Her first documentary — a film about Florida cowboys, Cowmen — won third prize at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. "I knew the cowboys probably wouldn't be around long, and I thought I should tell their story," she says.

Later, for five years, she worked in broadcasting on cruise ships, traveling the world. Then she followed her parents to Asheville, taking a job at WLOS, where she is Creative Services Producer.

Her next film is a comedy, One Hell of an Angel. "It's about an angel and demon forced to work together to help a washed-up rock star write a song to save the world," she says.
The theme's not surprising: For Damien, teamwork — and perseverance — are key to good filmmaking: "Asheville's great for independent filmmakers. People here open their doors. Still, it can be daunting and frustrating. So many films never get finished. You have to make an investment in yourself and trust your own work. And the end goal is to do the story justice."

My Toxic Backyard
Coming to Asheville
this spring
www.mytoxicbackyard.com



Cover Photo by Matt Rose/Asheville Scene
Tony Kiss (2011). Movie Making in the Mountains. Asheville Citizen-Times: Scene Magazine.

To be sure, Asheville has landed its share of big-budget movies.  Think of the Oscar-winning “Being There,” (1979) or the romantic epic “Last of the Mohicans” (1992) and, in March, the futuristic adventure “The Hunger Games.”

Even some local independent films, like Chusy Haney-Jardine’s “Anywhere USA” (once known as “Asheville, the Movie”) got some big attention in 2008 when it won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and compliments from director Quentin Tarantino.

But beyond the glitzy Hollywood productions, there’s plenty happening in moviemaking here.  On any given weekend, local filmmakers are grabbing their equipment and scripts, pulling together their cast and shooting short films – even features – mostly for love of the art.
Photo by Matt Rose/Asheville Sce

Those filmmakers are really just hoping for a little appreciation and exposure at events like this weekend’s Asheville Cinema Festival.

“It’s a thing I have to do,” said Asheville filmmaker Katie Damien.  “If you love it, you will do it regardless of how much money you make.” Like most local filmmakers, she has a day job, working in creative services at WLOS/Channel 13.

Damien’s short fiction film “Second Parent” has won the Cinema Festival’s Prestige Subaru Film Competition for local filmmakers and will be screened Saturday at 1:15p.m. at Asheville Community Theatre.   (Damien will also speak at the afternoon event, “Short Films for Women by Women.”)
Her movie is about a same-sex couple and what happens to the family after one of the partners dies.  “I wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for the competition,” Damien said.  “You only have so much time to do what you want to do.  You are not getting paid, and this kind of competition is good for filmmakers.”

It turns out she will get a little cash out of the contest – a first-place prize of $500 (the second-place winner receives $250 and the third gets $100; all will be screened at the Cinema Festival.)  Nine short films, none more that seven minutes long, were entered into the Prestige Subaru Competition, said Asheville Cinema Festival executive director Wyman Tannehill.  The competition is about “supporting the filmmaking scene,” said Tannehill.  (The local Subaru dealership is the presenting sponsor of the entire fest).  “I think the filmmaking community here is very diverse,” he said.  “Not only in the age of filmmakers but in the type of films that people are creating.  You find people downtown shooting on some street corner or in a back alley.”....




A Look at Filmmaker Katie Damien
By Dan Thornton on December 5, 2013
 
Some people just know what they're destined to be.  

For me, I reached the last day of high school and still didn't know what kind of career I should pursue.  I thought I'd work a bit and take classes until it became more apparent. Eventually, for better or worse, I sorted it out and found some semblance of a trajectory in my life.

Katie Damien is one of those people that always knew what she wanted to do.  What a luxury that must have been to know exactly the field of work that was right for you. By the way she had made this decision before she was even a teenager.  So when the time came, she applied for film school at the University of Central Florida.  No backup plans.  No other school choices. The film program at UCF is where she intended to be, period.
 
After completing her studies and working in the Florida market Katie decided it was time to see the world.  How do you do that?  Her way was to work, under contract, in broadcasting on cruise ships.  It agreed with her and she spent several years sailing the sea and earning her keep.  


"And if you've surrounded yourself with a really good team, when everything clicks and everyone can set their egos aside, it's like magic."


During this time, when she was doing these tours aboard ship, her parents had moved from Florida to Asheville, North Carolina.  Not really needing a house or apartment since she was away so much of the time she started calling Asheville her home base and stayed with her parents when not aboard ship.  After the cruise contracts ended she took up permanent residence in Asheville.  Which leads us to her soon to be released feature length film.

The seed from which My Toxic Backyard unfolded came from her attempt to buy a house in Asheville. A rather continental city skirted by the Pisgah National Forest.  Progressive, with a touch of the old and new, it receives people from all over the world to see the sites and to enjoy the fresh mountain air.  It does have a dirty little secret though, as Katie discovered.

After finding some nice homes that were affordably priced just outside the city limits, it seemed too good to be true.  Most homes in Asheville are very expensive.  Thank heavens she was curious enough to find out why.  Many of the homes in this area have wells where the toxicity levels of the water reach hundreds and  thousands of times the amounts the EPA considers safe and has resulted in a higher than normal rate of cancer among the residents.

My Toxic Backyard tells the story about what happened in this area.  Katie investigates the history behind the contamination and talks with the residents about the issue and what can be done to resolve it.  Hopefully, having seen this film, we will understand better how to prevent it in the future and how to deal with it if it's already happened in our  community.

One thing I've noticed about Katie is she likes to "play" with her equipment and effects, as you will see in her demo reel below.  This experimentation has paid off with some dramatic footage and five Emmy awards for her.  In fact, she made a fun little film of her trip to the Emmys using her iPhone and a lens attachment that looks like it's done with a pro rig.  Proving, once again, that it's not the equipment but the talent behind it.

I see you majored in film production at the University of Central Florida.  How did you know a life in the film business was your calling?  Did you have a backup plan?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had no back up plan when I went into filmmaking.  I was twelve at the time and just decided that that's what I was going to do the rest of my life.  Whether I could make a living at it or not was irrelevant.  I was just going to make movies until I couldn't make movies anymore.  As it happens, it all worked out pretty well.  I didn't even have a back up film school (which in retrospect seems like a silly thing to have done.)  I only applied to UCF's film school because I had decided that's where I was going to go.  I didn't apply anywhere else because it didn't occur to me that I wouldn't get in, even though I knew it was very competitive (the Blair Witch Project had just come out and the filmmakers were UCF film school alumni.)  Maybe that's a part of the secret to success: don't leave yourself any other options and you will find a way to make things happen... because you must.  That, and be really lucky.

The irrelevant part of making a living as a filmmaker factors in when you just have a passion for something.  It doesn't matter whether or not people like what you do, as long as you love it and you know that you don't need the approval of others to make yourself happy in what you're doing, then you are free.  You might be limited in the type of film you can make on your own and that's not to say it doesn't hurt when you get rejected (and if you've spent any time in any art form, you've had your fair share of rejection.)  The difference is that if you're really passionate about what you're doing, you can keep going after you've been turned down, turned away and in all other ways turned inside out.  Just keep going.  That's how I do it.  

I agree with you 100% Katie and I think that is the way all true artists feel.  They must do it so they're all in, odds be damned.   What drew you to Asheville?

I'd been doing freelance work in Florida and had gotten by okay, but I was doing a lot of below the line work, which was very fun and good experience, but I really wanted to direct and that's a hard thing to break into.  No one wants to hire you without the experience, but you can't get the experience because no one will hire you.  I already had a good body of work in short films, but that wasn't enough.  Plus, I'm impatient.  I also wanted to travel the world and I saw no need to wait until retirement to do that.  So I started working in broadcasting on cruise ships, doing 6 month contracts.  I was going to do 2 contracts for 1 year figuring that would be enough to get the traveling bug out of my system.  5 years later, I finally decided I was done.  I packed everything up and moved it into my parent's basement because I didn't want to pay for an apartment when I wasn't living in it most of the time.  My parents had moved to Asheville and when I wasn't working on a ships, I would stay with them.  When I decided I was done with ships, I didn't want to move back to Florida.  I liked Asheville too much, so I stayed.

That's very interesting Katie.  What led you to My Toxic Backyard?

A: It all started because I wanted to buy a house. In Asheville housing prices are generally high no matter where you go. So when I found a section of town where the houses were affordably priced, my first thought was, what's wrong with this area? There was no high crime rate, no dilapidated houses, it was close to city limits, but not too close. I thought I might have stumbled upon a hidden gem. My realtor showed me multiple homes in the area and I started to get excited. I told a friend of mine about this amazing find and as soon as I told him where it was, he stopped me. "There's something bad in the water out there. Don't buy a house there!" he said. "What's in the water?" I asked, perplexed that I had never heard about this before and I had lived in Asheville for more the five years. "I don't know, but it's making people sick."

I stopped looking for houses in that area, but I was curious and started digging. There were newspaper articles, and TV news stories, it was no secret. There was a whole community fighting for clean, safe drinking water that I had somehow managed to remain oblivious to. Even when I had been actively looking for a house in the area, there were no red flags, no warnings from my realtor or anyone else. If I had not done my own research, I never would have known that there was a toxic Superfund site leaking chemicals into the water table. I felt like I had dodged a bullet, but I couldn't stop thinking about all the people still living out there who weren't as lucky. That's when I started making the documentary.  It was just a story that needed to be told.  I was amazed at what I had uncovered in making this film.  Most of my work in film is meant to entertain.  With this documentary, I feel like I have the unique opportunity to make a difference.

Hard to imagine the realtor didn't know this and if they did shouldn't they be required to inform you of it.

Property disclosure is not always as cut and dry as you might think.  For example, if your water has been testing negative for contaminates, but your neighbor's water is contaminated, you don't have to say anything.  You only have to disclose what is on your property.  Even though common sense would dictate that if there's something bad in your neighbor's water and there is a large source of contamination near by there's a good chance it's heading your way.  You don't have to speculate about what might happen in the future when selling your property.

What stage of development is My Toxic Backyard in and what are your plans for it when it's released?

It's nearly finished.  I just have to review everything one more time to make sure that there aren't any errors I've overlooked.  The first chance it will have to screen in public will be at film festivals (providing it gets into any of the ones I have chosen) from January till May.  After that I'll submit it to local PBS on UNCTV.  I'm also sending copies to the state legislature who are right now deciding whether or not to loan the city money to run municipal water to all the houses in a one mile radius.

The EPA hasn't been testing more than a one mile radius, though it could reach further especially where rivers are concerned.

Tell me about your other films.  What other genres do you work in?

I've worked in a lot of genres.  I've made dramatic films, comedy, stop-motion animation, horror and even a western. 

I imagine that finding actors and crew is fairly easy in Asheville and there are lots of varied locations to work with.  Is that assumption correct?

The more time I spend in Asheville, the more talented people I run into.  I've found if you have a decent production going on, film professionals will come out of the wood work.  There are a lot of industry professionals living in the mountains who travel for work.  They leave for months at a time working on a picture and come back home for a few months before their next gig.  There are also a lot of really talented actors that I am finding here who have only done theater work, or  who have never acted before, but some of these people you put in front of a camera and they will blow you away with their performances.  I think this town in particular draws a lot of artists and creative types in general.  That makes it easier for me to find talent.  

And as far as locations go, everything is amazing.  You can go to a number of national and state park to get rivers, waterfalls, woods and mountain vistas, but sometimes you'll find those amazing scenic views in someone's backyard.  We get every season too.  In the winter there's snow, in the summer everything is lush and green, in the fall there's plenty of color.  And because we have kind of a small town feel, you can go up to business owners and private residents, tell them about your project and most of the time they are happy to work with you and let you use their space for shooting.  Everyone is just super nice.  This really is an ideal area for indie filmmaking.

You've won five Emmy Awards. Is that right?  How does it feel being  nominated by your peers much less winning one?

I do have five Emmys and it's so freaking awesome!  It is truly an honor.  When friends and family tell you how great they think your work is, that certainly feels fantastic and helps bolster confidence, but they're biased.  When complete strangers who are industry professionals honor you with an award like that, it's validating in a different kind of way.  I think it gives me the confidence to take on bigger projects.  Those kind of wins definitely make you want to reach even further and strive even harder.

I've noticed you often work with Eruch Adams, Rebecca Morris, and Matt Shepard.  Should I be keeping my eye on these people and what they're accomplishing?

Yes, yes and yes!  Eruch is a brilliant writer who is working on his first novel.  He's very funny.  Comedy is a hard thing to master, but he does it effortlessly.  I'm terrible at comedy, but I make good comedy films mainly because of his scripts.  Rebecca is super talented, so is Matt.  Rebecca has a very diverse range.  I feel like I could throw her into any role and she would nail it.  She has the ability to hold in character, something I find most actors have difficulty with.  She can give a brilliant performance with her eyes and nothing more.  I find with many actors, they perform better if you give them something to do.  It helps them to focus and act more naturally.  Rebecca can just be and she can do it in character.  It's brilliant to watch.  She's a hidden gem in this area.  Matt has a great look.  The camera loves Matt.  If you meet him in person, he's still good looking, but it's not the same as when he's in front of a camera.  He just has a natural charisma that translates well to film.  He's also very raw and not afraid to go to dark places that might appear false in less skilled hands.

Do you know Kira Bursky?

I've worked with Kira a few times.  She worked on my documentary a little bit and she also worked on the comedy feature, One Hell of an Angel that I directed (in post now.)  Everyone in the crew wanted her in their department.  People were literally fighting over her.  I wished I had had ten of her on that shoot.  She reminds me of myself when I was younger, only she's leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at that age.  She has a ton of natural talent and good instincts, and you can't teach that.  She's also honing her craft and it's great to watch.  I've seen so much improvement in her abilities from film to film.  She will make it.  Not everyone can make it in the industry, it can be really brutal, but she will.  She has a great attitude and people just want to work with her.  She is also crazy talented on multiple fronts.  She writes music too.  She's like a one man band of awesome.  I'm always excited to see what she'll do next.

What excites you most about about making films? 

I think production is the most exciting part for me.  I love being on set.  I feel like when you're shooting, that's the biggest culmination of all that you've been working toward.  It's generally the largest gathering of people all there at the same time to make a movie happen.  There's generally a lot of down time on a set, but everyone is there for a reason.  From the cinematographer who shoulders the formidable responsibility of the visual end of the film to the lowly PA who fetches coffee, everyone on set is important.  And if you've surrounded yourself with a really good team, when everything clicks and everyone can set their egos aside, it's like magic.

What do you know now that you wish you'd known early on in your career?

That's a great question. I know now that there are some stories I can tell well and some I can't. You should always do what you know. And if you want to tell a story you don't know anything about, be sure you do your homework. I've learned to find stories that resonate with me. I've also learned to say no when a project isn't a good fit. I think that just comes with experience though.

You have a catalogue that includes a  mixture of commercial work, photography, writing, and film.  This must keep you very busy.  Is the variety something you prefer or just the way things worked out?

All my work has to do with story telling, so to me it's just different disciplines that accomplish the same thing.  I love doing all of them.  When I was a kid, I had to take one of those tests that grade schools make you take so that they can figure out what job you will have as an adult.  All the other kids had jobs like detective, fireman, scientist.  My job came out as "undefined."  I was mad at first because I wanted it to tell me I'd have a cool job too.  Later someone told me that I had so many interests that I could probably do just about anything and enjoy it.

I am always very busy, but I love it.  Some day I'll find balance.  Maybe tomorrow.  Right now, there's just too many fun things to make.

- See more at: http://www.gigspotting.net/a-look-at-filmmaker-katie-damien.html#sthash.PursQUEt.dpuf




My Toxic Backyard - Documentary Review

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Asheville is a wonderful city nestled in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina.  Most everything about the town is either quaint or magnificent.  It does have a dirty side though.


Is your water safe?


We Want Clean Water.bmp
Everyone would assume their water is safe unless told otherwise.  If toxic chemicals were leeching into the groundwater near your home how soon would you expect be notified of it?  Days, weeks, months, years?   The dumping of toxic chemicals by a manufacturing plant in this community was known for years.  What wasn't known was how it was affecting the groundwater.   In this case,it took a decade or more before it was generally known by the residents and was recognized as a hazard.  It was not required to be disclosed in the buying and selling of property in the area.


When Emmy Award winning filmmaker Katie Damien returned from several years working aboard a cruise ship she wanted to settle down and buy a house in Asheville where her parents now live.   Homes in Asheville can be rather pricey.  She thought she had found a hidden treasure when she noticed a moderately priced home in a small community just outside Asheville.

Feeling that it was too good to be true she did some investigating of her own and found this little oasis of affordable homes to be more of a nightmare than the home place that she dreamed of.


The water is contaminated.


Warning.jpg
The dirty little secret is that the water there is contaminated.  Toxic water.  It had been a secret to most for several years.

That's when Katie started documenting what was going on by interviewing the neighbors in the area and discovering the manufacturing plant that is believed to be the source of the contamination.  

Is the Environmental Protection Agency ready to step in and resolve the issue?

It appears the EPA does not have a lot of clout, or is it lack of concern, for the issue the residents in this area are facing.  Otherwise, why isn't more being done to clean up this mess?  Meeting after meeting with EPA  facilitators has gone on with almost no progress in the cleanup occurring.  Another decade has past since it was known by the residents that their groundwater contained a high level of carcinogens.

Though the water is shown to contain many hundreds and even thousands of times the amount of contamination the EPA allows in safe drinking water they seem powerless to do anything about it.  

Many people in this area have died of cancer or have had to undergo treatments for it.  Sometimes it is not noticeable in the water, but it's there.  Other times the smell and vapors from it are enough to make you cough when taking a shower. Inhalation and ingestion by water are the two main ways that a person can be exposed to the toxins.  Without having a doctor to show direct causality between the water and disease nothing can be done to prove it is the water that caused the disease.

There has been deception and cover-up in this case to try and keep it under wraps for many years, apparently for commercial reasons.  If the problem had been fixed 20-30 years ago it would have been much cheaper to fix it.


Will the residents of this community get any relief from this toxic water?


Homes.jpg
Some progress is being made after years of EPA committee meeting, appeals to the state of North Carolina, and trips to Washington to argue on behalf of the landowners.  It can't come fast enough.  A plan to have many of the homes connected to city water has been made but is still awaiting approval.

This is a very good film though it's not pleasant to see what has happened to these people  and what they have had  to suffer with through polluted water, loss of family members,  and the fight to get someone to take responsibility for it.  It is a learning experience, and it never lost my attention throughout the film.

My Toxic Backyard  will soon be screened at various film festivals around the country and hopefully on your local PBS station.  Don't miss it!
- See more at: http://www.gigspotting.net/my-toxic-backyard---documentary-review.html#sthash.h9ikjId8.dpuf

My Toxic Backyard - Documentary Review
By Dan Thornton on December 16, 2013

Asheville is a wonderful city nestled in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina.  Most everything about the town is either quaint or magnificent.  It does have a dirty side though.


Is your water safe?

Everyone would assume their water is safe unless told otherwise.  If toxic chemicals were leeching into the groundwater near your home how soon would you expect be notified of it?  Days, weeks, months, years?   The dumping of toxic chemicals by a manufacturing plant in this community was known for years.  What wasn't known was how it was affecting the groundwater.   In this case,it took a decade or more before it was generally known by the residents and was recognized as a hazard.  It was not required to be disclosed in the buying and selling of property in the area.

When Emmy Award winning filmmaker Katie Damien returned from several years working aboard a cruise ship she wanted to settle down and buy a house in Asheville where her parents now live.   Homes in Asheville can be rather pricey.  She thought she had found a hidden treasure when she noticed a moderately priced home in a small community just outside Asheville.

Feeling that it was too good to be true she did some investigating of her own and found this little oasis of affordable homes to be more of a nightmare than the home place that she dreamed of.

The water is contaminated.

The dirty little secret is that the water there is contaminated.  Toxic water.  It had been a secret to most for several years.

That's when Katie started documenting what was going on by interviewing the neighbors in the area and discovering the manufacturing plant that is believed to be the source of the contamination.  

Is the Environmental Protection Agency ready to step in and resolve the issue?

It appears the EPA does not have a lot of clout, or is it lack of concern, for the issue the residents in this area are facing.  Otherwise, why isn't more being done to clean up this mess?  Meeting after meeting with EPA  facilitators has gone on with almost no progress in the cleanup occurring.  Another decade has past since it was known by the residents that their groundwater contained a high level of carcinogens.

Though the water is shown to contain many hundreds and even thousands of times the amount of contamination the EPA allows in safe drinking water they seem powerless to do anything about it.  

Many people in this area have died of cancer or have had to undergo treatments for it.  Sometimes it is not noticeable in the water, but it's there.  Other times the smell and vapors from it are enough to make you cough when taking a shower. Inhalation and ingestion by water are the two main ways that a person can be exposed to the toxins.  Without having a doctor to show direct causality between the water and disease nothing can be done to prove it is the water that caused the disease.

There has been deception and cover-up in this case to try and keep it under wraps for many years, apparently for commercial reasons.  If the problem had been fixed 20-30 years ago it would have been much cheaper to fix it.

Will the residents of this community get any relief from this toxic water?

Some progress is being made after years of EPA committee meeting, appeals to the state of North Carolina, and trips to Washington to argue on behalf of the landowners.  It can't come fast enough.  A plan to have many of the homes connected to city water has been made but is still awaiting approval.

This is a very good film though it's not pleasant to see what has happened to these people  and what they have had  to suffer with through polluted water, loss of family members,  and the fight to get someone to take responsibility for it.  It is a learning experience, and it never lost my attention throughout the film.

My Toxic Backyard  will soon be screened at various film festivals around the country and hopefully on your local PBS station.  Don't miss it!


The 2013 National Film Challenge seeks audience votes




Asheville filmmakers win big in National Film Challenge, will have movie screened at Cannes

| December 27, 2013

A team of Asheville filmmakers recently won big with their film entry in the 2013 National Film Challenge. Their movie, Joint Effort, won the Best Film award and will go to the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for a special screening.

The movie was the work of Asheville’s Gorilla With A Mustache Films, a five-person team of producers that includes the following: Lela Winton, Katie Damien, Eruch Adams, Coranna Adams, and Matt Shepard.

Joint Effort is a comedy about a package delivery gone horribly wrong. For the National Film Challenge, the group had one weekend to write, shoot, and edit the short film, then present it to the judges. Joint Effort won other awards. David Ostergaard won for Best Actor, while Eruch Adams and Will Eill won for Best Writer. Joint Effort also won the Best Use of Genre -Comedy award and was second runner-up for the Audience Choice Award. More here.
Here’s the credit rundown for Joint EffortKatie Damien, director, with Lela Winton as second unit director. Cinematograpy by Andy Crespo. Cast: David Ostergaard, Matt Shepard, Darren Marshall, and Adam Meier.
More about the National Film Challenge and the prizes awarded:
The best film is sent to the Cannes Film Festival and given a $3000 prize. GoPro, the title sponsor, is giving out another $3000 prize for the best use of a GoPro Camera in a movie. And the Audience choice winner receives $1000. The top 15 films are selected by judges for online voting determined by YouTube and Vimeo likes . “Joint Effort” was chosen as one of those top 15 films. The team of Asheville residents is undergoing a campaign to get the word out about the film and to encourage people to vote and to hopefully win the Audience Choice award.
Producer and director Katie Damien said, “There’s some stiff competition in this contest.  Overall the quality of all the top films is very high.  I feel really honored to have our film chosen as one of the best!  Asheville might not be as big as Dallas or Paris, but we’ve got some really talented people here in the mountains.”
About Gorilla with a Mustache Films: Established in 2010 when a group of producers collaborated on a 48 Hour Film Project. They won Best Picture for the city of Asheville. Heady with their recent victory (and drunk on their own sense of power), the group decided to pursue a feature film, as well as other short films. The Gorillas are currently in post-production on their first feature film “One Hell of an Angel.”
Joint Effort on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3347134/combined
Company IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/company/co0385222/
Gorilla with a Mustache on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GorillaWithaMustache
































Local film production company wins national film award

By On

A local film production company, Gorilla with a Mustache, has won a National Film Award, and the film, “Joint Effort,” heads to Cannes Film Festival in the next year for a special screening, according to gigspotting.net.

Here’s more information from the official Gorilla with a Mustache website:
Joint Effort wins Best Film of 2013 National Film Challenge

Happy Holidays, and happy they are here at Gorilla With A Mustache as the awards for the 2013 National Film Challenge were anounced and Joint Effort won it’s fair Share!  

Best Film

Audience Choice Award 2nd Runner Up

Best Actor – David Ostergaard for his role as Carl

Best Writing - Eruch Adams & Will Eill for their joint effort on Joint Effort They tied for the award with Paul Jenkins, Adam Dukes, Daniel Montgomery for‘Farmer and the Fold’ by Whisper Productions

Best Use of Genre – Comedy

And our prize as: Best Film of The National Film Challenge
  • $3,000 USD
  • Award Trophy
  • Screen at 48HFP Filmapalooza in 2014
  • Screen at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner
  • Free registration in the 2014 National Film Challenge

Gorilla with a Mustache has been a longtime participant — and favorite — of Asheville’s 48-hour Film Project.
Here’s more information on how the National Film Challenge works. It does seem like quite the challenge: Each team was given a weekend to put this film together, as well as certain elements — line of dialogue, character and prop — that had to be incorporated into one of two genres. Deadlines are my business, and I find that set of rules super intimidating. Congrats, you hairy apes!!



Gorilla With A Mustache wins National Film Challenge with "Joint Effort"
By Dan Thornton on December 26, 2013 8:20 AM
The Gorilla With A Mustache Films team out of Asheville, North Carolina won the Best Film Award in the National Film Challenge 2013  this week and the film will go on to the Cannes Film Festival this coming year for a special screening.

Their entry, Joint Effort, is a comedy about a package delivery gone wrong.

The team, in accordance with the National Film Challenge rules was given an assignment and had one weekend to write,shoot, and edit the short film, then present it to the judges. No small feat.  

Other awards received for the film were: Best Actor -  David Ostergaard, and Best Writer  Eruch Adams and Will Eill for Joint Effort.  Joint Effort also won the Best Use of Genre -Comedy award and 2nd Runner Up for the Audience Choice Award.


Gorilla With A Mustache Films is a 5 person team of producers: Lela Winton, Katie Damien, Eruch Adams, Coranna Adams, and Matt Shepard.  They have  participated in multiple 48 Hour Film Project competitions and now for the first time, the National Film Challenge. Each time the team was slightly different in regards to the cast and crew, but has always had the same core of producers. 

 Joint Effort was directed by Katie Damien with Lela Winton as second unit director. Cinematograpy by Andy Crespo.  Cast: David Ostergaard, Matt Shepard, Darren Marshall., and Adam Meier.
- See more at: http://www.gigspotting.net/national-film-challenge-2013-winner-gorilla-with-a-mustache-with-joint-effort.html#sthash.PdoRbS7f.dpuf



Justin Souther (2012). Gorilla With a Mustache goes long. Mountain Express

While the name of Gorilla With a Mustache Productions may be new to many, those who follow the Asheville edition of the 48 Hour Film Project should already be aware of this group of filmmakers. Their short film Bump — and entrant in last year’s festival — just made its appearance at the Charleston International Film Festival, while its 2010 entry Touched By Angels brought in a slew of awards, including Best Picture.

With that success, the crew — which consists of director Katie Damien, Matt Shepard, Eruch Adams, Cory Adams and Lela Winton — decided to take the original eight-minute-long Touched By Angels and give it the feature-length treatment. “We felt like we had momentum and confidence,” said Shepard, actor and co-writer on the project, describing the decision to go longform to Xpress. Now, nearly two years later, and with a completely fleshed-out script, the Gorilla With a Mustache troupe is ready to take the next step.

The film can be best described as an ethereal buddy comedy, about a former demon and current angel-in-training (played by Shepard). With the aid of a much more happy-go-lucky, gregarious angel (played by Dave Dietrich), Shepard must help a washed up rockstar (Asheville bon vivant Kipper Schauer) write one last great song. While it’s a simple foundation, Gorilla With a Mustache saw room to flesh out the film. “We just wanted to make this into a feature length,” explained Shepard. “There’s so much more to explore with the characters, and with what the characters are exploring about life and the universe.”

That last part is important, since the movie has more on its mind than just laughs. “Ideas of reincarnation, and how Heaven and Hell are not forever places, evolution of the soul towards Nirvana. It takes a little more Eastern view,” explains Shepard, but don’t worry about getting bogged down in a theology lesson. “At the forefront, it’s comedy.”

The group has been taking donations and has a Kickstarter going for a little over the month to meet a modest budget that with the best case scenario will afford Touched By Angels a name Hollywood actor. Regardless, the production will be hectic one, with shooting happening over a few weeks over the summer in Asheville and the surrounding area. “It’s going to be a fast and furious shoot with long days,” Shepard points out. “We know that’s what we have to do to make our film on such a tiny budget.”

Touched By Angels is just a jumping-off point for Gorilla With a Mustache, a simple project these filmmakers want to tackle for the simple love of making movies, Shepard says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. I’m going into this saying I want to do this, I want to make this happen. I want to make a movie, I want to be in a movie.”



 

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