By Dylan Hart
St. Petersburg is in the midst of a long-standing, multi-million gallon sewage crisis – but one local documentary team is looking to bring awareness to the issue.
“St. Pete Unfiltered” started out as a video project, but as the team discovered more information about the issues surrounding the city’s sewer system, the documentary quickly ballooned into a much larger project.
“[The sewage problems] got a lot of news coverage in 2015 and 2016,” said Caroline Smith, executive producer of the documentary. “But I found a lot of people didn’t actually know about it, and the people who did know about it assumed that it had been resolved, which it definitely has not been. So we wanted to create a little bit of awareness about the issue.”
The 10-person group working on the project moved on to create Listen Up, Florida LLC, seeking to expand the documentary to become a feature-length film on the subject, rather than the short three-minute video originally intended.
Listen Up, Florida says that, in addition to awareness, they are pushing to convince St. Petersburg officials to switch the consent order to a consent decree, which includes more measurable penalties should the city fail to bring their infrastructure up to standard.
“We’ve been doing a lot of extensive interviews with experts, everyone from government officials to plant operators and other experts,” said Smith.
Smith also stresses that the documentary intends to be as objective as possible, avoiding narration and instead displaying news stories, interviews and statistical information and allowing viewers to draw conclusions for themselves.
In 2015, the city of St. Petersburg closed one of its four water treatment facilities, a sewage plant located near Albert Whitted Airport.
Once the water treatment plant closed, discharges started to occur – millions of gallons of sewage were dumped into Tampa Bay, violating the Clean Water Act and significantly damaging the environment.
St. Petersburg is under a lawsuit with the Suncoast Waterkeeper organization, as well as other environmental protection organizations, due to their violation of the CWA. The city is also under a consent order to put more money into their infrastructure.
“St. Pete Unfiltered” will be premiering at the Gasparilla International Film Festival on March 24 at Tampa’s Muvico Ybor. An unfinished version of the film will be screened at 6:30 p.m. at The Edge on Monday, Feb. 12.
“We’re hoping students will come out, check it out, and let us know what they think,” said Smith. “We’re also really open to criticism and ideas about what else students would like to see as we continue our research.”
Header photo courtesy of Listen Up, Florida