Oil & Water | JFI Online Short: January 2023

Jewish Film Institute
3 min readJan 6


The Jewish Film Institute is pleased to present Oil & Water as our Online Short of the Month for January 2023.

About the Film: Two black towns in coastal Louisiana, one year after Hurricane Ida’s landfall. They face escalating storms, coastal land loss and fossil fuel development, but remain committed to rebuilding their historic communities.

Jewish Film Institute: Tell us about the genesis of this film. What inspired you to tell this story?

Michael Esealuka: I’ve organized in Plaquemines Parish for nearly 3 years, so this story has become deeply personal to me. In 2020 I started working with the town of Ironton on a successful fight against a $2.5 billion oil terminal slated to be built atop historic black cemeteries. Our victory was bittersweet as Hurricane Ida brought 9ft of floodwater and devastated lower Plaquemines. With new fossil fuel facilities planned for the area while communities remained displaced, I felt their story of resistance and rebuilding needed to be told. Through our partnership with Tikkun Olam Productions and Frontline Media Network, we were able to get this film done.

JFI: What was your biggest challenge making the film?

ME: This is the first documentary short I’ve directed, so the entire process was a new and exciting challenge. I was committed to relying primarily on residents’ own voices without any editorializing. The project was filmed in one day on a small budget with a tight crew. I enjoyed the long hours spent editing as we figured out how to explain complex, intersecting systems of injustice (environmental racism, forced relocation and the aftermath of climate disaster) in under 10 minutes.

JFI: What are you working on now?

ME: “Oil & Water” is the first in a series from Healthy Gulf and Tikkum Olam Productions. Our next short film follows a grassroots group employing former petrochemical workers to rebuild storm-damaged homes in Cancer Alley. We’re also producing films featuring oil & gas workers reflecting on the need for a just energy transition, Louisiana communities resisting the world’s largest buildout of fossil gas exports, and efforts to protect black cemeteries in Cancer Alley from industrial development.

About the Filmmaker: Michael Esealuka is a filmmaker and organizer based in New Orleans. Esealuka collaborates with communities throughout the Gulf who are resisting fossil fuel buildout and fighting for a just energy transition. As an organizer and storyteller, Esealuka strives to use every tool available to educate the public about systems of injustice and elevate the frontline community voices largely unrepresented in mainstream climate media.

JFI Online Shorts features one new short film each month from emerging and established filmmakers. Since 2009, JFI has showcased over 100 online shorts and garnered worldwide views over 2 million on the JFI Youtube channel. Learn more at www.jfi.org.



Jewish Film Institute

The Jewish Film Institute, based in San Francisco, champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. jfi.org