Dozens of people gathered in Valparaiso University’s Harre Union on Wednesday evening for a free screening of the award-winning documentary “Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability” as part of the university’s annual Earth Day celebrations.
The film tells the story of how the diverse ecosystems of the Indiana Dunes, where rare plants grow in the shadows of smokestacks, sparked a movement for a national park – a movement which finally came to fruition in 2019. Along the way it led to game-changing environmental policies with worldwide impact and unique partnerships.
After the screening, a panel of leaders from environmental organizations as well as local industries discussed the impact of the film, both locally and nationally, and also answered questions from the crowd. Panel participants included: Cassandra Cannon, executive director of the United Urban Network; Keith Weber, program manager at NiSource; Kelly Nissan, corporate responsibility manager at ArcelorMittal; Kim Swift, supervisory education specialist at the Indiana Dunes National Park; Geof Benson, executive director of the Dunes Learning Center; Pat Wisniewski, producer and director at For Goodness Sake Productions, Robert Tolpa, U.S. EPA (retired); and Tom Desch, documentary filmmaker.
“It tells the story of the Indiana Dunes as a national park in such a compelling, comprehensive way,” said Swift. “It seems that it came out at a good time and was able to galvanize the supporters who worked to get legislation passed to get the national lakeshore renamed as a national park.”
Through all of the discussion that ensued, members of the panel agreed on one notion that Wisniewski, who directed the documentary, hoped was the take away from the film.
“This place deserved to be a national park for such a long time,” she said. “We all know there’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’ve come such a long way and we’re on the right path.”
The film revisits the negative environmental impact that steel and other industries had on Northwest Indiana’s lakeshore throughout history, but concludes with highlights from restoration efforts and environmental initiatives these industries are now taking part in. Nissan was asked how government deregulation would influence ArcelorMittal’s environmental efforts, to which she responded that they would not sway them at all.
“We’re leading the way and it’s because we care about what happens here as much as you do,” she said. “We talk about industry as if it’s a thing, but it’s not a thing. It’s a people, it’s us. We drink the water, we garden in the soil, and we grew up here too. We care about what goes on with our environment.”
“Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability” debuted in 2016 and airs regularly on Lakeshore PBS. For more information on air dates or DVDs of the film, as well as other local documentaries, visit LakeshorePBS.org. The Office of Sustainability at Valparaiso University is concluding its annual Earth Day celebrations with a festival on Saturday, April 27 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, visit the university’s Facebook page.