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A Peek at a New Documentary Examining Waterways

Spawning Sturgeon in "Everybody Lives Downstream"

Watching the River Flow

To paraphrase René Magritte: Ceci n’est pas une première. Not a première. But maybe just as good or better, a preview of a première. Of a feature-length documentary film by Anna Scime called Everybody Lives Downstream, a major component of an ongoing multimedia project on the ongoing megaproject restoration of area waterways and adjacent lands. The preview is scheduled for Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m., at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and is free.

In conjunction with the preview is the debut of a website—a component of the multimedia project—of video interviews and other raw materials for the current film and prospective future film explorations of similar and related topics.

A knock on documentary films often and in general is that they are insufficiently sexy. There’s graphic sex in this one. Unique footage of sturgeon spawning. Not an easy achievement, according to the filmmaker, in the thirty-five-mile-an-hour swirling waters of the Niagara River, among large jagged rocks. She was referring to the filming of the spawning. But the spawning itself not easy, either, from the looks of it. Sturgeon are a native population here that has survived overfishing and the environmental insults to the waterways over the past two hundred years or so, but are a threatened species, but the current environmental cleanup efforts may recall them from that demimonde category.

Scime describes her new film as a braid—three strands, interwoven—identifying the three strands by colors and labels.

Brown-remediation—basically about the Riverkeeper, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Corps of Engineers dredging and associated work in and around the Buffalo River.

Green-restoration—largely about a forty-two-acre oxbow wetland off of Buffalo Creek, upstream of the river, with thriving native species of flora and fauna that it is hoped will shortly recolonize the former industrial lands along the river where the dredging is occurring. Margaret Wooster of Riverkeeper calls the oxbow area “a kind of Noah’s Ark” of native plants and animals. But with numerous invasive species mixed in, that tend to elbow out natives. Local environmentalist and high school student groups have done extensive work in the oxbow area to encourage the natives and deter if not entirely eliminate the invaders. Planting more natives, wrapping some of the tree trunks to keep the beavers—a native species—in line.

And blue-sustenance—about the river and fish and fish consumption. The term sustenance has a double sense here. Sustaining the fish population by providing or improving habitat, and fish as sustenance, for people who fish and consume their catch, who tend to be low-income people, and often recent immigrants, such as the Burmese community on the West Side, whose origin-culture diet was heavily dependent on fish, but partly due to English language difficulties, might be unaware of the health risks in eating local fish from polluted waters. Riverkeeper in conjunction with Jericho Road Ministries has produced a plain-language illustrated booklet on safe consumption limits of different local fish species. The booklet is available at the library and also online at

Prospective further films in the multimedia project include one tentatively titled “Black Rock, Pink Sky,” on the Upper Niagara River—that is, the river above the falls—Scajaquada Creek, the Black Rock channel, pollution sources and possible solutions for these waters, and DEC and federal Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to improve or restore fish habitats in the waters. And one tentatively titled “Current,” on the Lower Niagara—below the falls—with more on sturgeon, and energy matters and Native American matters, including Native American mythology about the river and particularly the sturgeon. Prospective depending on finding funding for these films. Scime says she made the present film “on a dental floss budget” and lots of uncompensated help from friends and colleagues that she doesn’t feel she can just keep asking for.

The website includes video interviews with numerous participants in the megaproject. Riverkeeper principals Jill Jedlicka and Margaret Wooster; community outreach specialist Katy Brown, who originated the idea for the plain-language fish consumption booklet; UB Law School Professor Emeritus Barry Boyer, on the tortuous legal matter of ownership of the Buffalo River and polluted sediments, and early conservationist efforts by Friends of the Buffalo River, the forerunner group to Riverkeeper; Fish and Wildlife officer Kofi Fynn-Aikins on the agency’s fish studies and habitat restoration efforts in the Niagara; and Native American historian Rick Hill on the mythology. And dozens more. And more to come, Scime says.

Everybody Lives Downstream is a title Scime uses for several components of the multimedia project—the website URL is—including a previous shorter video on the dredging project, produced for Squeaky Wheel’s Channels program. But how could you say it better? In three words, the insight behind the passion and determination behind the megaproject.

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