We are pleased to announce the five locations and community leaders selected for Rural Cinema 2023: Kansas Rural Center and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation), Environmental Justice Community Action Network (Sampson County NC), 7 Directions of Service (Pleasant Grove, NC), Safe, Affordable, Good Energy (SAGE TN) (Cookeville, TN), and Iowa CCI (Scott County, Iowa).

Rural Cinema is a training institute and community engagement program aimed at supporting community leaders located in rural areas and small towns across the United States to utilize documentary films to advance their local efforts to move people to action on critical issues facing their area.

This year’s cohort will participate in Rural Cinema’s virtual training institute covering Working Films’ Eight Elements of Putting Films to Work, a curriculum focused on best practices for using documentary film for change. At the end of the training and through individualized consultation, community leaders will organize multiple screening events over the course of the year.

Each organization will receive $7,500 in monetary support and EPIC Outdoor Cinema solar-powered film screening equipment (projectors, screens, speakers, etc.).

Meet the 2023 Rural Cinema cohort:

7 Directions of Service

7 Directions of Service logoFounded by frontline activists Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck and Jason Crazy Bear Keck, 7 Directions of Service (7DS) is an Indigenous-led environmental justice and community organizing collective based on Crystal’s ancestral Occaneechi-Saponi homelands in rural North Carolina. Their mission involves canceling the Mountain Valley Pipeline/Southgate Extension and campaigning for legal Rights of Nature laws in North Carolina. 7DS is striving towards a long-term vision of rematriation and Indigenous-led food justice by developing its community garden into a hands-on learning and cultural center.

Dr. Crystal Cavalier-KeckDr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck is a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and she has dedicated the past 5+ years to defending her homelands against the Mountain Valley Pipeline/Southgate Extension. She is leading a campaign to bring Rights of Nature laws to North Carolina to protect the waterways and communities in the path of the pipeline. Crystal completed her Doctorate at the University of Dayton, focusing on the social justice epidemic of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) tied to gas and oil pipelines. This led her to launch the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition of North Carolina. Crystal serves on the boards of Movement Rights, The Haw River Assembly, The Women’s Resource Center, and Benevolence Farm, and is Policy Director at Toxic Free, North Carolina.

Jason Crazy Bear KeckJason Crazy Bear Keck is the co-founder of 7 Directions of Service with his wife, Crystal. With a multiracial heritage as Choctaw-Apache, French African Creole, and European, Jason’s leadership is driven by the power of grassroots solidarity and bridge-building across differences. He is the former VP of outreach for an international men’s organization and currently leads programming for men and boys that foster Indigenous values and healthy male identities. Jason is a board member of Benevolence Farm, President of the Alamance County Native American Caucus, and the Communications Director of the 17 Rivers North Carolina Chapter of the American Indian Movement.

Learn more: https://7directionsofservice.com/.

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Iowa CCI

The mission of Iowa CCI is to empower and unite grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities; involve them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Toby Raine (he/him) Membership & Database CoordinatorToby Raine is one of CCI’s Membership and Database Coordinators. He is involved in cleaning up member data, creating strategies for member growth and retention, and coordinating fundraising efforts. He came to CCI after several years of working for the Polk County District Court. Frustrated by the lack of public resources within the Justice System, Toby realized he wanted to be part of an organization dedicated to positive change rather than one that maintains the status quo. He is originally from a tiny town in southwest Iowa and went to a high school surrounded by corn and soybean fields. In his spare time, he likes to crochet, sew, read, and travel the Midwest with his partner.

Ava Auen-Ryan Iowa CCIAva Auen-Ryan started as Farm & Environment Organizer in July of 2018 and worked with CCI for three years before going on a vision quest to Ohio. Ava moved back to Iowa and rejoined the staff in November of 2022. Some of her favorite memories growing up in Iowa are playing in the crick on her grandparent’s farm, going fishing in the driftless region of the state, and the views of the Mississippi from her backyard in a small town in Southeast Iowa. 

Learn more: https://www.iowacci.org/.

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Environmental Justice Community Action Network

Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN) logoEnvironmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN) is an organization focused on, and dedicated to, achieving environmental justice around North Carolina. EJCAN focuses on issues that have a significant impact on health, economic outcomes, and quality of life for residents in the state.

Sherri co-founded EJCANSherri White-Williamson co-founded EJCAN along with colleagues from Vermont Law School in July 2020. Since moving back to North Carolina she has worked to empower local community members to advocate for change in Sampson County. To date, the organization has helped to prevent contaminated soil from being dumped at the local landfill – the largest in the state. EJCAN continues to work in collaboration with university partners to provide free water testing for residents.

Learn more: https://www.ejcan.org/.

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Kansas Rural Center and Praire Band Potawatomi Nation

Kansas Rural Center logoThe mission of Kansas Rural Center is to promote the long-term health of the land and its people through research, education, and advocacy that advance an economically viable, ecologically sound, and socially just food and farming system.The Kansas Rural Center will be working with members of Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation located on Prairie Band Potawatomi land, currently known as Jackson County, Kansas.

Mikayla “MK” Kerron is an Environmental/GIS Technician for the Prairie Band Potawatomi NationMikayla “MK” Kerron is an Environmental/GIS Technician for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation where she coordinates the Clean Water Act 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution, Wetlands, and GIS Programs. She holds a B.A. in Indigenous and American Indian Studies from Haskell Indian Nations University where she focused her studies on climate change in Indigenous communities and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Mikayla is an enrolled member of the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes in Oklahoma and is also a descendent from the Muscogee Creek Nation, Makah, and Quileute Tribes. Prior to her job with Prairie Band she was also a GAP Technician in the Environmental Programs Department for the Wichita & Affiliated Tribes and also a Bureau of Indian Affairs Intern for the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center at North Carolina State University. She will continue her studies at the University of Kansas to receive a M.S. in Geography and further her research climate change in Indigenous communities and TEK.

Jackie Keller is the Sunflower Stories Program Coordinator for the Kansas Rural Center (KRC)Jackie Keller is the Sunflower Stories Program Coordinator for the Kansas Rural Center (KRC), a non-profit organization founded in 1979 that has been working with communities across Kansas on environmental issues since its inception. KRC’s mission is “To promote the long-term health of the land and its people through research, education and advocacy that advance an economically viable, ecological sound, and socially just food and farming system.” Jackie has been closely involved with KRC for over 20 years, much of which was spent serving on the board. Jackie earned a M.A. degree in International Relations from San Francisco State University with an emphasis on Environmental Policy, thesis topic was Sustainable Agriculture. She’s worked with diverse communities at Food First in Oakland, CA, Global Exchange and the San Francisco Departments of Agriculture and Environment. In 2000, she moved back to Kansas and transitioned her parent’s 200 acre conventional crop ground to organic, attaining certification in 2004. She’s been awarded the NRCS Water Quality Award for Shawnee County and the John Vogelsberg Sustainable Agriculture Award. Jackie has served on her Farm Service Agency (FSA) County Committee for twelve years. For almost thirty years she has advocated for healthy soil, water and food access, and social justice.

Learn more: https://kansasruralcenter.org/ and https://www.pbpindiantribe.com/.

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Safe, Affordable, Good Energy (SAGE TN)

Safe, Affordable, Good Energy for Tennessee (SAGE TN)Safe, Affordable, Good Energy for Tennessee (SAGE TN) brings together community members in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland fighting a proposed “natural” gas pipeline in their. The 122-mile Ridgeline Expansion Project would be owned by Enbridge, but is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s proposal to replace their coal-powered Kingston Fossil Plant with gas. Formed at the end of 2022, SAGE is working to stop these gas plans and instead urging TVA to choose a cleaner, more affordable plant replacement. SAGE TN believes in energy systems that support clean water, public safety, and environmental justice, and envision a future of local and sustainable energy in the Upper Cumberland.

Gabi Lichtenstein is the Tennessee Energy Democracy Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices.Gabi Lichtenstein is the Tennessee Energy Democracy Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. She organizes alongside SAGE TN and other communities impacted by TVA’s proposed gas replacement for the Kingston Fossil Plant. While pursuing her M.A. in geography, Gabi became active in the labor movement, organizing with co-workers at the United Campus Workers of Georgia (UCWGA). Her graduate research focused on power shutoffs and utility justice, and followed several years working to support energy democracy. Gabi is committed to transformative change led by impacted communities. She enjoys mountain hikes, outdoor concerts, and growing things.

Breanna Ortner is a Media and Event Coordinator with SAGE TNBreanna Ortner is a Media and Event Coordinator with SAGE TN. Brea grew up in rural Arkansas, but has lived in Cookeville for the last six years and is proud to call Tennessee home. They are so excited to combine their two great loves of theatre and activism. While you’re more likely to see them standing on the Square with a protest sign than on the stage, Brea has assisted in numerous local productions, namely CPAC’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged and Cookeville Theatre Company’s I am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dream. They would like to thank Working Films, Gabi with Appalachian Voices, the Universalist Unitarian Congregation and all SAGE TN’s volunteers. They give special love and thanks to their ever supportive husband Zac, Sisters Sam and Emily, and their forever found theatre family.

For regular updates on the Rural Cinema 2023 cohort, follow Working Films on Twitter and Instagram.

Applications for Rural Cinema 2024 will open in late Winter 2023.

Rural Cinema is made possible with generous support from the Kendeda Fund, Perspective, Putnam Foundation, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. 

Download the press release here.

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