Hollywood flack’s dream: Dustup over ‘Troubled Waters’ sells out premiere

A flier for the premiere of 'Troubled Waters.'
A flier for the premiere of ‘Troubled Waters.’

Update: Terry O’Reilly, TPT’s chief content officer, said today that the public television station intends to air the “Troubled Waters” documentary as originally scheduled: at 8 p.m. Tuesday on tpt2, with rebroadcasts at 2 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday.


After the hullabaloo over “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” — the documentary tracing the impact of farming and urban development on the mighty river — it is not surprising that the premiere is sold out.

A few rush tickets might be available for the first screenings at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, says the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History, which contracted with the filmmakers to produce the documentary. Better to check first, though. You can find more information here

If you don’t snag a seat for these screenings, you’ll have to count on a promise U of M President Robert Bruininks made in a statement on Wednesday:

“The issues related to the Minnesota watershed are of critical importance to Minnesotans, to our nation, and to me personally. I am pleased that the Bell Museum, under the capable leadership of Prof. [Susan] Weller, will provide the public with ample opportunity to see the film and participate in the robust discussion that will follow.”

No definition of “ample opportunity,” but you can be sure demand will be high and so will the scrutiny of the U of M’s next steps in making the film available on campus as well as on TPT. Hollywood could only envy the free publicity this film received after U of M Vice President Karen Himle moved earlier this month to shut down the premiere and a scheduled TPT showing.  

Bruininks acknowledged in his first full statement on the university’s troubled handling of “Troubled Waters” that nothing less than academic freedom is at stake — even while he seemed to stand by Himle’s controversial decision.

Before I see the film, I plan to review the most recent information on the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s one of the topics covered in the film.

Nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals flowing down the Mississippi collect in the Gulf, where they stimulate an unnatural super bloom of algae. The algae die and sink to the bottom, where bacteria decompose them. And the bacteria suck up oxygen, leaving the water in a state known as hypoxia — which means there is inadequate oxygen to support living cells.

In other words, fish must flee for their lives. And slower-moving creatures like oysters and clams can suffocate.

You can read MinnPost’s latest report on the dead zone here and also find links to more information if you want to do some homework.

Meanwhile, here is Bruininks full statement

“I have been traveling abroad for the past week, but was aware of the concerns about the ‘Troubled Waters’ film and am in full support of the decision to present the film as scheduled and conduct a public forum afterward. As the facts surrounding the production of the film have become clearer, it was readily apparent to me that this is an issue of academic freedom; as a result, we immediately resolved to show it as planned. This is certainly not the first time the University and its leadership have stood behind the academic freedom of its faculty and staff with regard to complex or potentially controversial issues — indeed that is a fundamental value of the university.

“Certainly, the decision and rationale regarding whether or not to show the film as scheduled could have been handled differently and communicated more clearly. It is important for me to acknowledge that Vice President Himle was asked by the Bell Museum to review the film, and she raised questions and concerns about it in her capacity as Vice President of University Relations. As I have said before, Vice President Himle is an important member of my executive team, and I have confidence in her leadership and integrity.

“At no point was there a question about the importance of the issues raised in the film or whether such a film should be made and shown. I am pleased that we now have a consensus within the administration and faculty on our current course of action. We will continue to work together to protect academic freedom and the quality of scholarship and outreach at the U. We will continue to review this situation, and I am confident we will learn from this and improve our procedures as we move forward.

“The issues related to the Minnesota watershed are of critical importance to Minnesotans, to our nation, and to me personally. I am pleased that the Bell Museum, under the capable leadership of Prof. Weller, will provide the public with ample opportunity to see the film and participate in the robust discussion that will follow.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 10/01/2010 - 09:38 am.

    I wish your article could have carried over the comments from the original statement from Burinicks that was in MinnPost 2 days ago.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/01/2010 - 09:43 am.

    President Bruininks does not seem to be able to make up his mind on Troubled Waters and academic freedom issues.

    He has made contradictory statements:

    Bruininks Statement: 9/28

    “As the facts surrounding the production of the film have become clearer, it was readily apparent to me that this is an issue of academic freedom; as a result, we immediately resolved to show it as planned.”

    source:

    http://bit.ly/9zE98I

    MPR 9/29

    U of M President Robert Bruininks said talk of delaying the “Troubled Waters” documentary, which he admits should have been handled and communicated differently, never threatened academic freedom. “That was never at risk and never at stake,” he said.

    source:

    http://bit.ly/b9O46L

    And I will repeat the question I asked the president after the Board of Regents Meeting on Monday:

    “Did you discuss this matter with VP Himle prior to the cancellation of the film’s showing?”

    The president declined to answer.

    Eventually, someone in Morrill Hall is going to have to explain what really happened. I continue to doubt that Ms. Himle made the decision unilaterally. Who, exactly, told her that it was OK to pull the film?

  3. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 10/01/2010 - 09:48 am.

    This could backfire big-time. It sound like this is a lefty propaganda piece funded heavily by lottery money. The lottery helped to fund the Northfield wind generators. Is this what lottery players had in mind? A lot of cynics will be at the pre-screening and I’m confident that they will blog their comments before the public TV debut.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/01/2010 - 12:52 pm.

    It would have been helpful if the writer of this article had stated what Karen Himle’s decision was and what is so controversial about this film. From what I read here, it sounds like very old news, i.e. that runoff from the Upper Mississippi Watershed overloaded with nitrogen and other pollutants, is polluting the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

    I made the mistake a few years ago of casually mentioning this to a friend (who worked for the phosphorous monopoly) after seeing a farmer spreading anhydrous ammonia fertilizer on a field and he went ballistic.

    A lot of people are in denial about water and air pollution, let alone climate change and bringing it up disturbs their benign view of the world through rose colored glasses.

  5. Submitted by Dave Thompson on 10/01/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    It is a sad commentary on our political discourse that a documentary on water pollution could be dismissed as “lefty”. The Minnesota River is a big agricultural sewer. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Since when do facts have a political point of view?

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/01/2010 - 01:58 pm.

    “Academic freedom” or not, when you’re the primary agricultural school in the state, it’s probably not a good idea to have sponsored and supported a film that accuses our farmers of destroying the environment.

  7. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/01/2010 - 02:09 pm.

    In this world facts often have a “political” point of view. If you don’t like the facts–say global climate change–denounce it as a left-wing conspiracy or something–a huge hoax. I’ve often seen candidates and/or campaigns charge that a factual statement is left wing, socialist when it is nothing of the kind
    I think it’s more proof that rigid right wing conservatives can’t handle the truth.

  8. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/01/2010 - 04:22 pm.

    If the accusation that certain farming practices are harmful to the environment is true, which the evidence has long suggested is the case, no one, including farmers, benefits from pretending otherwise. As I understand it, the film does more than criticize farmers, but offers constructive solutions on how to fix the problem. Again, much more useful to everyone, including farmers, than simply pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

  9. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/01/2010 - 04:42 pm.

    So the university shouldn’t pursue the facts about farm pollutants because they’re an agricultural school and it might tick off the farmers?

    The truth is what it is and the sooner we face up to the facts and address the issue the sooner we can find a solution to the problem. Pretending the pollutants don’t exist doesn’t make them disappear.

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