Dr. Elizabeth Coffman (right) at the Audubon Society's 2011 Women in Conservation luncheon. Photo courtesy of the Audobon Society.

Dr. Elizabeth Coffman, director of international film and media studies, was recently named as one of the Audubon Society’s “Women of the Gulf” at the 2011 Women in Conservation luncheon as a result of her passionate commitment to exposing the realities of the rapidly disappearing Louisiana coastline.

Coffman was honored because of her film, Veins in the Gulf, a documentary that tells the story of Cajun culture and the environmental crisis that is threatening Louisiana’s landmass. The film exposes and explains the state’s coastal turmoil through interviews with scientists, musicians, and engineers – people who make up the heart of Louisiana’s coast.

Along with her filmmaking partner Ted Hardin, Coffman began working on Veins in the Gulf in March 2003. The film’s original aim was to raise awareness about the disappearing bayous, but when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and other coastal cities in 2005, the problems became more complex. The infamous BP oil spill in 2010 brought a slew of new troubles to southern Louisiana, and Coffman and Hardin had to once again shift the film’s focus to include the ruinous effects of the man-made disaster.

Coffman, who is originally from Florida, has been studying the Gulf Coast region for quite sometime. While teaching at Tampa State in March 2004, Coffman and a fellow colleague, poet Martha Serpas, took a group of poetry and documentary students to southern Louisiana to learn about the crisis in the wetlands and assist with filming for Veins in the Gulf.

Serpas, a native of southern Louisiana, narrates much of the film with her celebrated poetry that effectively communicates the spiritual and emotional devastation that accompanies the continual loss of Louisiana’s landmass.

Veins in the Gulf takes an in-depth look at the dilemmas coastal communities face and raises questions about the future of southern Louisiana.

“Our film talks about the damages and how [the oil companies] are financially liable for some of those causes,” Coffman says. However, Coffman insists that the federal government is also liable because they “allowed the oil industry to build under government permits.”

“Scientists that have the answers [for stopping land loss] just need funding from the federal government and the oil companies for restoration,” Coffman says.

Coffman has dedicated her time in academia to exposing social and environmental problems occurring in all parts of the world. In 2002, she and Hardin produced a documentary entitled, One More Mile: A Dialogue on Nation Building, which provides insight into the lives of Bosnians dealing with the post-war situation. She also currently serves as Loyola’s environmental curriculum developer, a new position designed to increase course offerings for students interested in learning about environmental sustainability.

The Audubon Society’s Women in Conservation luncheon was held at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in May. The event also featured artist Maya Lin and actress Sigourney Weaver, both of whom received the Audubon Society’s Rachel Carson Award for their contributions to conservation and the environmental movement. Coffman spoke with Weaver at the luncheon and gave her a copy of Serpas’ poetry.

Rough cuts of Veins in the Gulf have been screening at universities throughout the United States for the past few months. The finalized version is set to be released this fall. More information about Coffman’s film can be found at www.veinsinthegulf.com.