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Science Serving Maryland's Coasts


Emmy Award Statue
The Pfiesteria Files

The award, presented for long-form documentary, was presented by the Capital Region of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit professional organization serving the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. television community. The Pfiesteria Files was originally released in 2001. The Academy's Emmy Award is the industry's benchmark for the recognition of television excellence.

58 Minutes.

DVD. UM-SG-DV-2007-01.

Producer/Writer/Director: Michael W. Fincham
Co-Producer: Maryland Public Television

Cost: $24.95 plus $1.50 state tax (Maryland residents only) and shipping and handling (rates)

When watermen find wounded fish along a lonely river in Maryland, they kick off a scientific debate and an environmental crisis focused on a mysterious microbe that may — or may not — cause sick fish and sick people.

The Pfiesteria Files follows all the players in this crisis — watermen and farmers, doctors and scientists and state officials — as well as the journalists who reported the story to an anxious public. It investigates the origins of the "Pfiesteria hysteria" that gripped much of the mid-Atlantic during the September fish kill season of 1997, and examines the dangers of toxic blooms in coastal waters around the country.

The story opens with angry watermen complaining about sick fish, fearful that a toxic dinoflagellate called Pfiesteria piscicida could be active in Maryland waters. In North Carolina this mysterious dinoflagellate caused memory loss and psychological damage among the scientists who first discovered the organism. The Pfiesteria Files takes us into the North Carolina labs where researchers became sick and then into the Maryland hospitals where doctors discovered that watermen and waterskiers and river workers in the Chesapeake were suffering mental confusion and memory loss.

These unexpected findings led to a media war among newspapers and television stations, followed by public panic, political controversy, and economic calamity. Environmentalists would launch campaigns blaming river pollution on hog and chicken farmers. Legislators would pass new regulations on farm runoff. And Maryland watermen, seafood sellers, and tourist businesses would take a $40 million hit in lost sales.

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Emmy for Long-Form Documentary
Columbus International Film and Video Festival
ECO Award
Outdoor Writers Association of America
World Gold Medal
New York International Film and Television Festival
Grand Prize Science Films
EKOTOFILM Festival, Bratislava, Czech Republic
Cine Golden Eagle
Council for Non-Theatrical Events

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The Pfiesteria Files (DVD)
Fincham, Michael W. and Maryland Public Television, co-producers. 2007. UM-SG-DV-2007-01. 24.95.

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