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Unfractured: One woman’s fight to ban fracking

A hopeful documentary about fighting with your whole heart, Unfractured follows introspective biologist and mother, Sandra Steingraber, as she reinvents herself as an outspoken activist and throws herself into an environmental war that many believe is unwinnable.

An intimate viewing of the documentary took place on NCC’s Bethlehem Campus as part of a week-long tour from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia.

Branded a “toxic avenger” by Rolling Stone, Steingraber quickly emerges as a leader of New York’s biggest grassroots movement in decades. Determined to win an uncompromising battle with the oil and gas industry, Steingraber decides she must fight with her whole heart—devoting all her time, energy, and money to the cause.

As the film opens, her personal life is thrown into crisis when her husband, Jeff, begins having one stroke after another. She knows her family needs her at home, but she can’t stop—not until she and her allies win a state-wide ban on fracking.

Steingraber believes that fracking (a natural gas extraction process that drills horizontally through the Earth and shatters the bedrock with water and toxic chemicals) contaminates the environment and threatens our health.

For the past thirty-five years, Steingraber has been trying to protect people’s health by encouraging us to protect the environment. Now, as fracking threatens to come into her rural community in upstate New York, she must succeed. She believes her children’s lives depend on it.

Shot over the last year of the historic fight against fracking in New York, Unfractured offers an intimate perspective on an epic battle. We watch as Steingraber debates the gas industry, delivers fiery rally speeches, and marches alongside other protestors. But when she realizes that scientific evidence alone is not enough to win a ban, she visits anti-fracking activists in Romania, who have inspired her from afar.

In Romania, she is trailed by unmarked cars and pepper sprayed by police. Back at home and motivated by her experiences abroad, Steingraber joins her neighbors to lead a civil disobedience campaign, is arrested for blockading a gas storage site, and is hauled away to jail for two weeks.

Unlike other films on the issue, this documentary is not a polemic on the harms of fracking. Instead, this observational documentary is an intimate look at one activist’s convictions, hopes, and sacrifices. Ultimately, Unfractured takes us through a battle of astonishing international significance and into the life and mind of a complicated and compelling woman, asking us to consider the risk and reward of activism.

The Pennsylvania Tour of Unfractured was organized by the Better Path Coalition. The Lehigh Valley screening was co-hosted by Berks Gas Truth and local partners, The Climate Reality Project: Lehigh Valley Chapter and Northampton Community College.

Biologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. writes about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment.

Steingraber’s highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment was the first to bring together data on toxic releases with data from U.S. cancer registries and was adapted for the screen in 2010. As both book and documentary film, Living Downstream has won praise from international media.

Continuing the investigation begun in Living Downstream, Steingraber’s books, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood and Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, explore the intimate ecology of pregnancy and reveal the ways which environmental hazards now threaten each stage of infant and child development. Throughout, she calls parents and cancer patients alike to political action.

“We are all members of a great human orchestra,” says Steingraber, “and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You do not have to play a solo, but you do have to know what instrument you hold and find your place in the score.”

Called “a poet with a knife” by Sojourner magazine, Steingraber has received many honors for her work as a science writer, including, in 2011, a Heinz Award. By donating the cash prize to the anti-fracking movement, she became, in 2012, the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of more than 280 grassroots organizations.

Steingraber has been named a Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine, a Person of the Year by Treehugger, and one of 25 “Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by the Utne Reader. She is the recipient of the biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award and the Jenifer Altman Foundation’s Altman Award for “the inspiring and poetic use of science to elucidate the causes of cancer.”

Steingraber received a Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Health Champion Award from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles.

Recognized for her ability to serve as a two-way translator between scientists and activists, Steingraber has keynoted conferences on human health and the environment throughout the United States and Canada and has been invited to lecture at many medical schools, hospitals, and universities–including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and the Woods Hole Research Center.

She has testified in the European Parliament, at the European Commission, before the President’s Cancer Panel, and has participated in briefings to Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and before United Nations delegates in Geneva, Switzerland.

Chanda Chevannes is passionate about media for social change. Her first feature documentary, Living Downstream, won multiple awards and was broadcast on six continents.

While living in Uganda, Chevannes created educational films on violence prevention, which are being used by thousands of organizations and have contributed to tangible change. Chevannes has trained as an arts educator with the Royal Conservatory and was recently an Innovator in Communities with the Toronto Public Library. She is currently an instructor at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre.

In 2015, Chanda received a prestigious Chalmers Arts Fellowship, which enables artists to take their work in new directions. In 2013, she received a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and was named a Woman to Watch by Sydney’s Buzz on Indie Wire.

Chanda is a member of several professional associations, including the Documentary Organization of Canada, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Toronto Chapter of Film Fatales. She is a graduate of Sheridan College, lives in Toronto, and is the mother of two children.