Around Crab Orchard

Vintage Photograph of Bunkers
Crab Orchard calls itself “a unique place to experience nature.” As the only wildlife refuge in the United States whose mission includes industry and agriculture alongside conservation and recreation, Crab Orchard claims a harmonious balance between uses and users that strike many as incompatible. This story of harmony is maintained through the production and enforcement of physical, visual, and political boundaries — boundaries that, once crossed, quickly dissolve. This essayistic documentary maps the filmmaker’s discovery of Crab Orchard’s complex and hybrid nature. When a request by a security guard to put away the camera leads to a surprise visit by the FBI, the filmmaker begins a journey to uncover the refuge’s history and understand its contradictory present. Crab Orchard’s status as a contaminated refuge emerges less as an exception and more an example of the power and perils of “nature” as we understand it today. From its use by historic Native Americans as a source of food, its continued role in an economically vulnerable region, and the use of its polluted lake as a water source, the film explores themes of invisibility, loss, and shared but profoundly unequal risk. Assembled from documents, found footage, and conversations with activists, writers, and local residents, the film meditates on the persistence of history, the creation of knowledge, the limits of representation, and the commonplace of environmental hazard. “Around Crab Orchard” ultimately argues for forms of storytelling, image-making, and activism that cross existing conceptual boundaries to respond to the full complexity of the social and ecological landscape.


Excerpt (20 minutes)

Select Screenings

UnionDocs, New York, 2014
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 2014
Banff Centre, 2014
Appalachian State University, 2014
Ohio University, 2014
Headroom Microcinema/University of Iowa, 2014
Furthermore Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013
Cabaret Voltaire/ETH Zurich, Zurich, 2013
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013
Interrobang Film Festival, 2013
Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, 2013
Southside Projections, Chicago, 2013
Athens International Film and Video Festival, 2013
University at Buffalo, 2013
35th Big Muddy Film Festival, 2013


Best Iowa-Produced Film, Interrobang Film Festival
John Michaels Award for social justice filmmaking, Big Muddy Film Festival
Juror’s Special Mention, Big Muddy Film Festival


Sarah Kanouse, “Around Crab Orchard”, HD video, 69 min, 2012. Contact me for private link to full-length video.