Wedged between the port of Los Angeles, the city of Long Beach, and the luxurious homes of Rancho Palos Verdes is the neighborhood of Wilmington. Listed at less than 10 square miles, with a population of about 60,000, it’s also home to the third biggest oil field in the continental United States.
Its primarily Latino residents count 479 active oil wells as neighbors—and there is a group of young activists fighting to improve the quality of air and water, and establish more of a barrier between their daily lives and the looming industrial presence.
District 15 is a new short film produced by Patagonia that outlines the fight undertaken by the Communities for a Better Environment group as it lobbies city council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to establish a 2,500-foot distance between oil drilling operations and Wilmington’s schools, hospitals, and churches.
Directed by Anjali Nayar, it’s a departure from the wide open spaces we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Patagonia’s growing catalog of activist branded content. The middle of Los Angeles feels distinctly different than protecting a surf break and Chilean fishing village in 2015’s The Fisherman’s Son or last year’s take on offshore, penned fish farms in Artifishal. And it is hundreds of miles from Missoula, Montana, where earlier this month the brand premiered its new feature-length documentary Public Trust, about America’s system of public lands and the fight to protect them.
But the goal remains the same: fighting against unfettered expansion of industry and advocating for clean air, water, and soil.
In 2018, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard changed the company’s mission statement to “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet,” and sees film as a key tool in getting the rest of us to feel the same way. Last year, in a Fast Company cover story, he said:
“We’ve got a propaganda machine going. After we were involved in this film 180 Degrees South [a 2010 documentary retracing Chouinard’s 1968 journey from Ventura, California, to Patagonia, Chile] and then DamNation [Patagonia’s 2014 movie about the damage dams can do], we realized the power that we have in film. I had no idea. With DamNation, we got the whole Obama administration to rethink hydropower. They no longer considered it green energy. Now it’s back, of course, with Trump, but that was it; they said hydropower is not green energy, and that was as a result of our film. We recognize that people make decisions based on emotion, and the best way to elicit emotion is through film. It’s not through books or catalogs or speeches. So we’re in the film business. We’re working on 10 films at a time these days. Some of them don’t make a cent. But that’s not the purpose.”
With District 15, the brand’s propaganda machine rolls on, making a distinct link between urban and rural environments—and the fight required to sustain them both.