Ethics Film Series

Each spring, the Kenan Institute for Ethics sponsors a film series that provides popular and accessible vehicles for talking about ethics around a particular theme. Each series as a whole offers rich opportunities for debate and discussion on ethical issues for audiences from both the Duke and Durham communities. This year’s film series is sponsored by DukeArts and the Environmental Alliance.

Spring 2017FilmSeriesFINALsm

Water: Friend or Foe?

Exploring water, life, and ethics

This year’s Ethics Film Series investigates the ethical and moral questions that arise when water becomes “the enemy,” the cursed necessity that is too scarce or too polluted. Without water, there is no life, and film provides a spectacular means of depicting the unfortunate cases when water can ruin one’s life. This series splits its time between examining water scarcity and water pollution as drivers of human action.

Film selections and dates for the Spring 2017 Ethics Film Series are detailed below. All films will be screened in The Ahmadieh Family Conference Room, West Duke 101 at 7pm (doors open at 6:30pm). Following every film, there will be a post-film discussion with faculty and special guests. The films are free and open to the public. Refreshments and light snacks are provided.

East Campus parking is available.

Click films below to learn more:

Chinatown - January 19, 2017 with Professor David E. Hinton

January 19
Chinatown (1974)


“You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t,” warns water baron Noah Cross (John Huston), when smooth cop-turned-private eye J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) starts nosing around Cross’s water diversion scheme. That proves to be the ominous lesson of Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s critically lauded 1974 revision of 1940s film noir detective movies. Winner of the 1974 Academy Award for Best Screenplay, Chinatown was nominated for ten other Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, and Score. Author: Lucia Bozzola

Rated R


David E. Hinton, Ph.D. (Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment) is the Nicholas Professor of Environmental Quality in the Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. His research focuses on the effects of ecologically relevant contaminants on early life stages of fish. For 14 years prior to coming to Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, Hinton was professor of Anatomy, Cell Biology, and Physiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. He led the UC System-wide Program in Ecotoxicology and his research focused on various environmental stressors affecting water quality in California. Since coming to Duke in 2000, Hinton has taught courses related to water crises (quantity and quality) in California focusing on the Delta formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, the hub of California’s water delivery system.




Jean de Florette - February 16, 2017 with Danielle Adams

February 16
Jean de Florette (1986)


Co-adapted by director Claude Berri from a novel by Marcel Pagnol, this hugely successful French historical drama concerns a bizarre battle royale over a valuable natural spring in a remote French farming community. City dweller Jean Cadoret (Gérard Depardieu) assumes ownership of the spring when the original owner is accidentally killed by covetous farmer Cesar Soubeyran (Yves Montand). Soubeyran and his equally disreputable nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) pull every dirty trick in the book to force Cadoret off his land, but the novice farmer stands firm. This film is the first of the two-part L’eau des Collines (Water of the Hills) series.

Rated PG

French with English subtitles

adams header_270Danielle Adams has worked with the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District since 2008 when was elected supervisor. As part of the department, Adams works to conserve, enhance and promote Durham County’s natural resources while also providing technical assistance, environmental education and economic incentives to local residents.

In 2012, Adams was named Outstanding Supervisor of the Year by the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful - March 2, 2017 with Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger

March 2
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (2011)


When Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger’s nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed.  As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened.  His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful follows Jerry’s mission to expose the Marine Corps and force them to live up to their motto to the thousands of soldiers and their families exposed to toxic chemicals.  His fight reveals a grave injustice at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and a looming environmental crisis at military sites across the country.

2008_06_12 003

Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger will join us after the film for a discussion on his role in exposing the Marine Corps and the injustices that have yet to be rectified.

Before the film, please visit these websites to learn more about the contamination at Camp Lejeune:

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten

The Official Website for Semper Fi: Always Faithful




Erin Brockovich - April 19, 2017

April 19
Erin Brockovich (2000)


Julia Roberts stars in this legal drama based on the true story of a woman who helped win the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit. Erin Brockovich (Roberts) discovers a systematic cover-up of the industrial poisoning of a city’s water supply, which threatens the health of the entire community. Erin Brockovich was directed by Steven Soderbergh. Author: Mark Deming
Rated R
Gene Stroup, MEM ’99, earned a master’s degree in resource economics and policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment. He has worked as a regulatory support coordinator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park since 2002. His job is to help EPA scientists translate their scientific understanding of human and ecological exposures into regulations and advisory documents to protect humans and the environment.

He was the 2016 recipient of the Forever Duke Award for his volunteer service to Duke, the Duke Alumni Association and other alumni groups.

Click below for Ethics Film Series archives:

2016 Film Fe(a)st

In conjunction with other food-focused Institute programming, the 2016 film series, Film Fe(a)st, included four films and one documentary series chosen to reflect different ways in which visual narratives can help unearth the ways in which preparing and eating food brings us closer to one another. Chef’s Table, Wall-E, Black Gold, The One Hundred Foot Journey, and Chef were the perfect courses to bring food, culture, and ethics to this film feast.

2015 Sound Beliefs: Music, Ethics, Identity

The 2015 film series, Sound Beliefs: Music, Ethics, Identity centered around the idea that music can act as a space and as an action at and through which identity is contested, exchanged, and upheld. The selections, including The Visitor, Buena Vista Social Club, Once, and The Punk Singer, were chosen to explore the many ways ethics, morals, and personal identity are expressed and shared through music.

2014 The South: Navigating the Past, Carving out a Future

Aiming close to home, the 2014 series explored “The South: Navigating the Past, Carving out a Future.” Each of the films were released within the past decade and explore different but connecting issues that define the reality of living in a place often ascribed to the mystique of a “New South”—one marked by both great social and cultural progress and by enormous, and persistent, inequalities. Screenings included Moving Midway (2007), Junebug (2005), deepsouth (2012), and Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). The directors of Moving Midway and deepsouth joined us for the Q&A following their films.

2013 Love and Justice

The 2013 series  “Love and Justice” explored how individuals – both alone and in context of their communities – engage the tension between the demands of justice and the grace of love. For this series, we partnered with the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival for two of the selections, which included  Gran Torino (2008), Le fils (The Son) (2002), Brother Number One (2011), and Habibi (2011).

2012 Condemned to be Free

Condemned to be Free,” the 2012 series, featured four films focusing on individuals—even in the most restrictive, oppressive circumstances—who claimed their existential freedom by taking responsibility for their decisions and actions. Films included Defiance (2008), Of Gods and Men (2010), Human Terrain (2010), and Little Town of Bethlehem (2010).

2011 Community

The Institute’s 2011 Ethics Film Series featured four films that touch on the theme of community, addressing the tensions that arise between individual rights and the common good and examining how individuals become members of and valued by their communities. Films included The Heart of the Game (2005), Restrepo (2010), Monica & David (2009), and Lars and the Real Girl (2007).