SOU Digital Cinema Instructor Wins Documentary Award

“Shoulders Deep” Showcases Choreography and Environmentalism in Post-Hurricane Houston

A short film produced by Southern Oregon University Digital Cinema instructor Chris Lucas was named best Documentary Short at the Dallas VideoFest’s 2020 DocuFest.

Shoulders Deep illustrates the story of a 17-year-old African American dancer displaced from her Houston, Texas home due to Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“Our film portrays several choreographed dance performances and spoken word readings by Aniya Wingate, a young African American dancer,” Lucas said. “Living in Houston, she processes her own reaction to being forced out of her home by rising flood waters.”

In Houston, Wingate can frequently smell the fumes coming from the chemical plants and oil refineries that surround the city. These refineries were built on old slave plantations, which were tribal lands before that. Now the plants are further impacting the communities of color that live nearby.

The story depicts Wingate and her choreographer, Walter Hull, creating a dance piece based on the impact of environmental racism and climate change through Wingate’s point of view.

Photograph of young woman laying in tape rectangle on stage
Promotional still of Aniya Wingate from Shoulders Deep

“Dance plays two parts in the films,” Lucas said. “Aniya traveled around the Gulf Coast with Walter, meeting residents and activists working in environmental justice, she would create immediate reaction dances, site-specific works in the place where these injustices had happened. Meanwhile, she is researching, choreographing and finally performing her complete evening of dance and spoken word, titled Caution: Roses Die Here, which will be seen in the feature-length film we are developing.”

According to Lucas, the American public is becoming more aware of the dangers of climate change, but there is still a lack of youth and racial diversity when it comes to the mainstream environmental movement. The makers of Shoulders Deep have responded by showcasing activists such as Wingate.

As one of the producers of the film, Lucas worked on the early concept, funding and planning for the film. Director John Fiege and Lucas have worked together on a past project, Above All Else, a feature length documentary that followed activists and the Keystone XL pipeline. The two continued collaborating on this project, flying back and forth to Houston, and also working remotely.

Shoulders Deep runs at eight minutes and is not available to the public yet, as it is still playing in festivals. Keep an eye out for the feature film, Raising Aniya, in 2022.

Story by Autumn Micketti (@mountainmusicwoman), Community Manager for the Communication Program at Southern Oregon University.



Comm, Media & Cinema @ Southern Oregon University

Earn BA/BS Degrees and Certificates in Communication Studies, Social Media & Public Engagement, or Digital Cinema @SOUAshland. #ThatIsSOU