When asked what compelled her to make her film Cotton Road, a feature length documentary that takes the audience on a supply chain journey by following cotton from local South Carolina farms all the way to Chinese factories, Emmy nominated documentarian and professor at USC Laura Kissel explains it. “I wanted to know more about where our clothing comes from—what it takes to produce it, what the industrial processes and labor are like at each step, and why some clothing is so cheap. Why can we purchase a t-shirt for less than $10 when energy costs are high and when the raw materials to produce it have traveled thousands of miles? I am also deeply interested in other people, and so I wanted to make a film that tells this story from the point of view of workers in a typical cotton supply chain—farmers, truck drivers, migrant workers, etc. I wanted average workers to be the narrators, because they are voices we hardly ever hear from.”
Her ideas came together, and the film, which debuts in Columbia on Wednesday night as part of Indie Grits Film Festival, has already found great success and continues to do so. Cotton Road has screened at multiple festivals, universities, and community events around the country and even screened in Malaysia. Along the way, it picked up the Best Documentary award at the Beaufort International Film Festival, Best Documentary Feature at the Santa Monica Independent Film Festival, as well as four other awards.
Kissel says, “I’d like for audiences to think more deeply about where things come from and consider both our global connections to one another through the cycles of production and consumption that we participate in, as well as consider that there are human beings in supply chains…I hope people can be more mindful around consumption—particularly when it comes to clothing. Recycle what’s in your closet or if you really do need some new clothes, look for brands that have a strong commitment to transparency, a living wage, and sustainability…I’d like a nice mix of greater social awareness in a broader segment of the population.”
The documentary has sparked a variety of very practical viewer ideas including: making your own clothes, supporting local clothing producers and tailors, only purchasing clothes from secondhand and consignment stores, and stopping the mindless production of t-shirts for every single event.
If you enjoy Cotton Road, go ahead and get excited for Kissel’s next project. She says, “My next documentary will probably be a lot like Cotton Road. It will be a contemporary story, told by individuals who rarely get to speak in the national press in any significant way. I’d like to draw more attention to the growing gap between rich and poor and how this social reality physically structures and divides our communities. It will be in the style of Cotton Road—focusing on something seemingly mundane at first glance, but it will intensely reveal, over time, deeply entrenched social and political realities.”
Cotton Road is screening Wednesday, April 15th at 5:30pm during the opening night of Indie Grits Film Festival at the Nickelodeon Theater. For more information about the documentary, visit cottonroadmovie.com.