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‘Ground War:’ a journey into the world of golf, chemical lobbying, and citizen activism

Interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou

Edewaa Foster

Andrew Nisker makes film “to inspire people to take action and revolutionise the way we treat the environment and ourselves”. In Ground War, he investigates the death of his father, who died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His journey takes him deep into the world of golf, chemical lobbying and citizen activism, where he learns that the intensive, conventional use of pesticides on playing fields around the world may be more damaging than he first realised. Among the determined people he encounters along his journey was Dewayne Lee Johnson, a former groundskeeper in California who is terminally ill with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Johnson is the man who took Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation acquired by Bayer in 2018, to court arguing their products caused his cancer, raising awareness of health risks from pesticide exposure. In his latest movie, Andrew asks: “What chance do we have at creating a safer world for ourselves and our children?” We were curious to know if he’s found an answer to this.

Why was it so important for you to make this film?

After learning that my father was sick with cancer, I, like most in my position, wanted to know more. I decided to document the process. His story seemed similar to other people who were subjects in my film Orange Witness. That gave me a head start on where to start asking questions.

What was the most surprising thing you learned during your investigation?

How in the dark most of us are. How we assume products we use are safe. When you dig into the stories behind many products we routinely use, there is often a sordid history. When it came to the types of pesticides used on my father’s golf course — many of them — it made me question their necessity and their safety. So I decided to take action and learn more.

What message are you trying to send with this documentary?

Ask questions. Take precautions. Look for green alternatives.

It’s all about the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate. Are there safer ways to make your lawn, the park your children play in, or the soccer pitch pretty? This film proves, at least to me, that the answer is yes — there are much safer alternatives. Also, playing fields come in all sorts of shapes and ways. There is not one uniform beauty. You can’t chemically manicure the world to look like some advertiser’s lush green utopia. So ask yourself: how can you make your world greener without the use of pesticides? The answer will be refreshingly easy, for most.

Did you find an answer to the question: “What chance do we have at creating a safer world for ourselves and our children?”

Yes, there is a safer world, because of the people who make it their mission to ask questions about the safety of these products. Thanks also to the brave people who are pushing back and demanding the removal of these projects from communities. As featured in the tapestry of stories in Ground Wars, it becomes clear that I am not alone. There is hope, as was seen in the victory of Dewayne Lee Johnson’s case against Monsanto. I recently read an article in the Economist that said the pending litigations Bayer (Monsanto) face is in the billions, which is driving the industry to re-examine how they do business. We are living in a watershed moment. Ground War is one of many tools that I hope will help change the world my children will inherit by inspiring people to look for green solutions.

Knowing how ‘burning’ a topic that is (especially attacking Monsanto), did you encounter any particular challenges in the making of this film?

When making a film like Ground War, the challenge is no different than those in making my other films: Garbage!, Chemerical, Orange Witness, or Dark Side of the Chew:

  • Get the facts and present them in a way that is entertaining, memorable and inspirational.
  • Keep the lawyers happy by working with them to ensure what we show is honest and based on facts. There is no fake news here.

This article was featured in The Beam #8 — Together for Climate Justice, subscribe to The Beam for more.



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