image from the film Grit

image from the film GRIT

When Dian was 6 years old, a tsunami of mud buried her village along with fifteen others in East Java, Indonesia, in one of the largest environmental disasters in recent history. Over a decade later, 60,000 people have been displaced from what was once a thriving industrial and residential area. Dozens of factories, schools and mosques are submerged 60 feet under a moonscape of cracked mud.

The majority of international scientists believe that Lapindo, a multinational company that was drilling for natural gas in 2006, accidentally struck an underground mud volcano and unleashed a violent flow of hot sludge from the earth's depths. Ten years later, despite initial assurances to do so, Lapindo has not provided 80% of its promised reparations to the hundreds of victims of who lost everything in the mud explosion.While the survivors live in the shadow of the mudflow and wait for restitution, they live in makeshift rented homes next to levees that hold back the compounding mud. With old job sites—factories, offices—buried deep, the victims have turned the disaster site into a popular tourist destination.

Dian’s mother, widowed within a year of the explosion, has reinvented herself as an unofficial mudflow tour guide in order to make ends meet. She spends her days guiding curious Indonesians across the wasteland so the tourists can snap photos of the boiling muck and thick steam that continue to spurt violently into the sky. The vast lunar landscape is littered with bizarre activities: fashion photographers take stylish photos of models posing in ball gowns; vendors sell selfie sticks, DVDs and meatballs; protesters smear mud over their bodies in stubborn acts of resistance.

Dian is determined to rise out of the muddy life. She and her mother, along with many neighbors, fight against the corporate powers accused the disaster. The film bears witness to Dian’s transformation into a politically active teenager as she questions the role of corporate power and money in the institution of democracy itself.

Cosponsored with the Southeast Asia Program, the Society for the Humanities and Performing & Media Arts.


Grit Official Trailer from Sasha Friedlander on Vimeo.