Tribeca documentaries examine bullying and toxicity

Sun Apr 24, 2011 10:08am EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Deadly poisoned drinking water at a U.S. Marine Corps base, and bullying in U.S. high schools are among subjects of documentaries aiming to strike a nerve at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

Just short of half of Tribeca's slate this year are nonfiction films looking to score distribution deals and buzz in a genre that traditionally has been the strength of the indie cinema festival that runs in New York until May.

Previous years have seen documentaries premiere and eventually gain wider recognition, including "Taxi to the Dark Side" Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, who on Saturday premieres the sports-related film "Catching Hell."

But a number of U.S. documentaries this year examine issues affecting ordinary Americans. They include "Semper Fi: Always Faithful" which follows retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger's 14-year fight to expose contaminated drinking water at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.

The death of Ensminger's 9-year-old daughter from leukemia in 1985 after he spent 11 years at the base prompted a struggle to find and publicize answers. A federal investigation revealed the presence of toxic chemicals in the drinking water at Lejeune between 1957 and 1987.

But Ensminger and others in the film, directed by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardman, say the Marine Corps failed to properly notify people who were exposed, some of whom died, and the government has not made health benefits readily available to victims.

"You would expect an organization like the United States Marine Corp to step forward and be a little more responsible and accept responsibility, more so than you would a private industry. And unfortunately I have found out that it's the complete opposite," said Ensminger, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 25 years.