A young girl squeals at a toad hopping up her arm. Another cups her hands for a long, black millipede squirming around. This exploration of Alabama wildlife is captured on film by Johanna Obenda, a University of Alabama student and fellow of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
This film is one of six made this year as part of the Southern Exposure series, which aim to depict environmental impact and our role in nature. This year Obenda was chosen to tell the story of Camp McDowell, a summer program based in Nauvoo, Ala.
Obenda was one of the chosen fellows with very little experience in filmmaking. She had taken a course on documentaries at UA, but that was the extent of her work behind the camera.
“I didn’t really see, in my future, making films,” Obenda said. “So I thought I’d try it out, and it paid off. Everyone was so talented and I learned so much.”
She followed a group of campers into thick forests and through secluded trails, inspecting wild mushrooms and various creepy crawlies. The parents of the campers said the chance to explore nature is an invaluable part of growing up, and a strong first step to being aware of the world around them.
Other films in the Southern Exposure series tackle issues of biodiversity, water pollution and land development. One video details the overrun wild hog population and how the animals upset the ecosystem, terrorizing endangered turtles and plant life that are unique to Alabama.
Another video shined a light on the illegal dumping of untreated sewage into Big Prairie Creek along Uniontown, Ala. Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke showed the unacceptable levels of E. coli bacteria that were being discharged directly into the public water, and how there weren’t even proper warnings until citizens spoke up.
“People tend to see environmental consciousness as this fringe, hippie thing,” Obenda said. “But these issues affect legitimately everyone. It’s for everyone who lives in Alabama, there’s no hidden agenda.”
The films will soon be available online at Read “Water Laws Still Murky” on page 4 to learn how the Southern Environmental Law Center is influencing Alabama policy today.

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