Shoreham native uses film to promote good

MIDDLEBURY — Shoreham native and aspiring filmmaker Cosmo Pfeil’s latest project is aimed at shedding light on the potential dangers of nuclear power, and while one would think he could focus his lens on his home state — which hosts Vermont Yankee — he’s decided to point his camera at a facility in Tennessee.
Pfeil, 33, is making a documentary film called “Acceptable Limits,” which delves into the health controversies surrounding the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) facility in Erwin, Tennessee. Activities at the facility include the processing of enriched uranium into nuclear reactor fuel for the nation’s military arsenal, including submarines. Pfeil and fellow filmmaker Michael Abbott Jr. noted reports of flagging health from some Erwin residents living near the NFS facility. They became aware of Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports and citations related to the NFS plant operations, including discharge into the nearby Nolichucky River.
Through the use of interviews, still images, archival news/town hall meeting footage and music, Pfeil and Abbott are putting together a film that explores NFS’s daily operations processing toxic nuclear materials and charts how the Erwin community is reacting — and protesting — the impact the plant has had on their lives.
Pfeil is a 1996 graduate of Middlebury Union High School and the Addison Repertory Theater, where he developed an interest in the arts and filmmaking. He attended the North Carolina School for the Arts, then settled in New York, where he has been doing production work and acting in the film industry.
“I have always had an interest in telling stories,” Pfeil said.
But telling stories became a difficult proposition through spot roles, building sets and production work on TV shows. So he began looking for a bigger stage, and became inspired by recovery efforts in Earthquake-ravaged Haiti, of all places. He and Abbott went to Haiti to help out, primarily in the effort to provide clean drinking water. It was during this endeavor that Abbott told Pfeil about the lack of safe drinking water in his own hometown of Erwin.
“We had gone all the way to Haiti to do this sanitation project to help these people have access to clean, healthy drinking water and access to food that’s not tainted… and we realized this whole time, here were these people in Tennessee who were living around this nuclear facility,” Pfeil said.  “That kind of struck us. Here we had gone all the way to the Caribbean, to a Third World nation, and we find people in my buddy’s own home town who don’t have clean drinking water.”
It was a story that needed to be told, they decided. They elected to make the NFS/Erwin story the subject of a documentary, and found an ally in actress Park Overall, a Tennessee native.
“She called our attention to the high cancer rates and the contaminated water,” Pfeil recalled. “She asked us, ‘Y’all know who’s got a camera and can shoot a movie?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we can do it.’”
So, Abbott and Pfeil have made regular trips to the Erwin area since early this year. They have to date shot around 60 hours of film and have interviewed several locals, former NFS employees, Erwin officials, activists and tried to get NFS representatives on camera, according to Pfeil.
“We are trying to tell both sides of the story,” Pfeil said.
“The theme here for us is, no matter who is causing this, ‘How can this blatant of our environment and our people happen in our country?’” he added. “The story to me is, ‘Who is overseeing the overseers?’”
Abbott and Pfeil hope to begin editing early next year and come up with a finished product — between 90 and 120 minutes long — by next summer. The filmmakers are trying to raise another $15,000 to help finish the project. Details of that effort and information about the film (and a trailer) can be fund at www.acceptablelimitsthemovie.com.
Plans call for the finished product to be entered initially into film festivals, with hopes that it will make the leap into wider screenings.
“We obviously want to get this movie completed as quickly as possible and get it out there for people to see, but as an independently funded project, we are faced with financial challenges that slow down our process,” Pfeil said. “This film would not be possible without the support of people who care.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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