64 Parishes

City From the Future

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall is a character-driven documentary with global implications

Published: March 1, 2020
Last Updated: March 22, 2023

City From the Future

Fire River Films

There’s a poignant moment in the documentary Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, the 2020 Documentary Film of the Year, when Mossville resident Stacey Ryan describes the nighttime sight of the petrochemical plants that are slowly swallowing his property. “I’m addicted to the light,” he says. “It’s like a futuristic city in front of me. Your imagination takes hold and you dream of the future. From a distance, with the eerie glow, that’s what it looks like: a city from the future.

Directed by Alexander John Glustrom—whose Big Charity won LEH Documentary Film of the Year in 2015—Mossville documents what happens to people like Ryan when that city from the future erases the town his ancestors helped build. Settled by formerly enslaved people near Lake Charles, Mossville served as a sanctuary for black families during the Jim Crow era, only to disappear under the expanding footprint of fourteen petrochemical plants. Residents pay the price of industrialization not only with their property and heritage but also with their lives; continual exposure to toxic chemical compounds has turned Mossville into a hotbed of cancer, reproductive issues, and nerve damage. Through the stories of Stacey Ryan and Erica Jackson, the other central figure in the film, Mossville takes viewers beyond the statistics and into the homes of those who are living and fighting through the experience.

“I hope the film can be a warning to people about what can happen if you don’t stop these types of industries being built from the beginning,” says Glustrom. Because while Mossville is, in a way, a eulogy for a place and people, it’s also a reminder that this community in Calcasieu Parish is not the first instance of environmental injustice in the world, nor will it be the last.

Mossville illustrates with profound dignity the human cost of economic progress. It’s hard not to come away from the film feeling stirred and defiant, a reaction apparently so common that Glustrom and his team plan to develop resources for transforming moved audiences into activists.

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall will be released in independent cinemas across the country this spring and will broadcast nationwide on PBS in June.

Morgan Randall is a writer exploring the relationships between people, the environment, and business. You can find her at morandall.com.