Projected 82 minutes

FINAL PRESS NOTES* (read last page)


Melissa Troutman



Joshua Pribanic




In the fall of 2014, for the first time in United States history, an ecosystem — a watershed, to be exact — filed to defend itself in a lawsuit claiming it has ‘rights of nature.’ Little Mahoning Watershed filed to defend its own rights to exist and flourish specifically in Grant Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. But watersheds can’t hire lawyers or speak, so how can one defend its rights, and do watersheds even have rights?

As of April 2016, the Little Mahoning Watershed is still locked in a David vs. Goliath legal battle with the oil and gas corporation Pennsylvania General Energy who wants to construct a fracking wastewater injection well along Little Mahoning Creek. The case from PGE aims to reverse the new legal framework passed by Grant Twp — dubbed ‘Community Bills of Rights’ or ‘Community Rights’ — which bestowed rights to nature. The Community Rights bans the underground injection of fracking wastewater since it poses a significant risk to local drinking water supplies, and has prevented PGE from constructing what the state permitted as a safe operation.

Across Pennsylvania, and worldwide, communities are fighting and losing the same battle against corporations and state governments. But the few 700 people of Grant Township will ultimately become the first case to decide whose rights will win, corporations or nature.

Directed by the alarming, award-winning filmmakers Joshua B. Pribanic and Melissa A. Troutman, INVISIBLE HAND takes you inside the struggle behind the closed doors of our economy, to a new future of democracy.


Joshua B. Pribanic

In college I rented The Corporation (2003) from a local video store who paraded a gateway to great films, in no small way, they altered minds shelf-to-shelf. I can remember how watching that documentary caused me to think about the antithesis of corporate personhood. That the free market who birthed corporations didn’t stop there, and unbeknownst to itself, it was establishing ‘rights of nature’ as a result of its environmental exploitation; manufacturing its undoing.

As much as INVISIBLE HAND speaks to ‘rights of nature’ it speaks to human rights. If rights can be given to a corporation, why not an ecosystem? Are we willing to say as a society that because we cannot interpret or comprehend the voice or language of the environment, that it ceases to speak?  

The idea of rights and how important they are to democracy stayed with me. In 2011 I gave my first speech to Bowling Green State University about ‘rights of nature’ mainly in relation to conventional agriculture and genetic engineering. Less than two years later I never expected to see those rights spread out in the open on a table in rural Pennsylvania. Furthermore, this small community of fewer than 800 people used this radical shift of thinking to beat back one of the largest corporate institutions in the United States. It was then for me that the film INVISIBLE HAND had its foundation after years of putting the idea to a canvas. The phenomenon created by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations and perpetuated by 20th century free market advocates, ‘invisible hand’ — something Smith referenced as human — was being replaced by a hand out of the environment. The hand Smith inferred to had changed to the paw, the hoof, the wing of the environment.

We know corporations in the 21st century have taken over much of our political system, and the people of the United States cannot compete eye-to-eye with the corporate citizen. Out of all these overwhelming concepts — free markets, rights of nature, human rights, corporate personhood — you come to a final question, “Will democracy survive?”

This is not a film about taking sides. It’s a film about seeing the whole picture, about seeing all sides of an idea and removing the elephant in the room. I think INVISIBLE HAND is helping showcase the fight to keep democracy alive, how people are overcoming the exploitations of a free market, and how communities are succeeding or failing in that fight.  My hope is that wherever you are, this film can speak to your fight.

Melissa A. Troutman

When I began investigating water contamination related to fracking in 2010, I had no idea it would lead me to a new rights movement. But there it was, like a slap to the face. And it only took one slap.

In 2014, I reported about Grant Township, a tiny community in rural Pennsylvania fighting to keep a toxic waste injection well out of their watershed. They passed a local law elevating the community’s rights above the rights of corporations. But that’s not all – they also bestowed Nature with certain rights, including the right to thrive and flourish.

When I started reporting about fracking, I naively assumed that if pollution occurred it would be dealt with – especially water contamination because, after all, we drink the stuff. I thought the problem was that our elected public officials simply didn’t know about it.

In 2013, I and my investigative partner, Joshua Pribanic, released Triple Divide, which reveals how state officials in charge of oil and gas in Pennsylvania let water contamination by fracking get covered up by companies that don’t want to accept responsibility.  Since Triple Divide, we’ve uncovered nine other ways that PA DEP systematically keeps groundwater impacts that affect drinking water “off the books” giving the impression that fracking is safe, when it’s clearly not.  

But the real problem creating the terrible injustices I’ve encountered since 2010 isn’t really fracking, or individual “bad actor” corporations, or the government agencies side-stepping pollution. The real problem is far greater: Our legal system is rigged to favor private property and corporations above citizens, public health, even above our own government. It’s a system that encourages willful blindness, allows private interests to harm innocent people without their consent, commodifies and destroys Nature, and threatening our survival as a species and planet.

It wasn’t always this way. When the nation was founded, even human beings were considered property. So was nature. But for the native people of this land, it was not so.

It doesn’t have to remain this way. It took decades and countless losses to secure basic rights for slaves, women, and indigenous people. Today, the new rights movement that began in Pennsylvania about a decade ago is spreading across the globe. What was started by a small borough in Pennsylvania in 2006 has inspired countries like Bolivia and Ecuador to amend their national constitutions to bestow and enforce the Rights of Nature over the past several years.

In this film, we’ll highlight the struggles of communities fighting to protect themselves using ‘solutions’ available inside ‘the system.’ INVISIBLE HAND will also acquaint you with another solution from ‘outside the system’ – the community rights and rights of nature movement – a revolution that’s creating a new system of law that truly protects us and the ecosystems upon which we rely for survival.


Marc Edwards

(born 1964) is a civil engineering/environmental engineer and the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech.An expert on water treatment and corrosion, Edwards's research on elevated lead levels in Washington, DC's municipal water supply gained national attention, changed the city's recommendations on water use in homes with lead service pipes, and caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to admit to publishing a report so rife with errors that a congressional investigation called it "scientifically indefensible". He is considered one of the world's leading experts in water corrosion in home plumbing, and a nationally recognized expert on copper corrosion.

Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007. The program cited him for "playing a vital role in ensuring the safety of drinking water and in exposing deteriorating water-delivery infrastructure in America’s largest cities”. In 2004, Time magazine featured him as one of the United States' most innovative scientists. (source: Wikipedia)

Art Pearl

Art Pearl has been around for a while. He has taught at New York University, Howard University, Oregon University, University of California Santa Cruz and Washington State University Vancouver. He also has taught in California prisons and was Director of New York’s Division for Youth. He was a principal speaker at the only White House Conference on Teaching the Disadvantaged and was also a member and chair of the National Institute for Teaching of the Disadvantaged. In politics, Pearl ran for governor of Oregon and lost by a close margin. He was elected three times to the Santa Cruz Board of Education, the second time with the highest vote ever recorded. Pearl was given a Martin Luther King, Jr. Lifetime Award and an award from the University of Oregon for his work in advancing social justice.


Begun as a traditional public interest law firm seeking to protect the environment, CELDF sought to protect communities from projects such as incinerators and waste dumps which cause environmental harm.

Chad Nicholson

Chad Nicholson is the statewide Pennsylvania Organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). He works with communities facing industrial threats in all corners of the Keystone State. 2015 brought numerous challenges, including CELDF's work defending two communities in federal court (including Grant Township). With colleague Ben Price, Chad has co-authored the Pennsylvania Community Rights Cookbook, a 700-page volume on the history of people's movements, and the tragic rise of corporate power, in Pennsylvania. The Cookbook serves as the curriculum for 2-day Community Rights Workshops, which have graduated hundreds of PA residents who are asserting their community's rights over corporate control.

Chad began rights-based organizing in Spokane, WA, in 2009, coordinating Envision Spokane's first campaign attempting to amend the city's Home Rule charter to recognize expanded rights for residents on issues that ranged from healthcare, affordable housing, worker protections on the job, and environmental rights.

Thomas Linzey, Esq.

Thomas Linzey is an attorney and Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) – a nonprofit law firm that has provided free legal services to over five hundred local governments and nonprofit organizations since 1995. He is a cum laude graduate of Widener Law School and a three-time recipient of the law school’s public interest law award. He has been a finalist for the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, and is a recipient of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union’s Golden Triangle Legislative Award. He is admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court, the Third, Fourth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Western and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He is a co-founder of the Daniel Pennock Democracy School – now taught in twenty-four states across the country which has graduated over 5,000 lawyers, activists, and municipal officials. Linzey is the author of Be The Change: How to Get What You Want in Your Community (Gibbs-Smith 2009), has served as a co-host of Democracy Matters, a public affairs radio show broadcast from KYRS in Spokane, Washington and syndicated on ten other stations, was featured in Leonardo DiCaprio and Tree Media’s film 11th Hour, assisted the Ecuadorian constitutional assembly in 2008 to adopt the world’s first constitution recognizing the independently enforceable rights of ecosystems, and is a frequent lecturer at conferences across the country. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, the Nation magazine, and he was named, in 2007, as one of Forbes’ magazines’ “Top Ten Revolutionaries.” Linzey currently resides in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Ben Price

Ben has for twelve years worked with CELDF to coordinate community rights organizing across the country, and has advised and organized nearly 200 communities that eventually adopted community bills of rights that codify the right of local community self-government, the rights of the natural environment, the right to clean air and water, and other rights, while prohibiting corporate activities that violate those rights.

Ben served as adviser to Pittsburgh City Council members and assisted in drafting Pittsburgh's Protection from Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance.


Grant Township Supervisor John Perry

Born in Western NY.  Lived on a dairy farm, Jersey cows. USAF till they got sick of me, and served during the Vietnam era.  Never got any closer to V than Germany but still volunteered during the war.

Met my first partner in front of a cigarette machine at a leather bar in Buffalo. Spent 14 rollercoaster years together ending with him succumbing to AIDS in 1992.  He taught me the piano restoration game that I still play. After he passed I got my shit together and married a wonderful man, Billy. We moved to a decaying mansion in East Run and  life was wonderful, until PGE decided to put an injection well right next to our property. Then I was motivated to be politically active.  I became a township supervisor and a member of the Hellbenders.  We were successful in getting Home Rule passed in Grant Township.

Grant Township Supervisor Stacy Long

Stacy Long lives in East Run, Pennsylvania with her husband, Mark and their cat, Fattie.  A graphic designer by trade, she’s also president of the East Run Hellbenders Society and is a board member of the PA Community Rights Network.  She serves as a newly-elected township supervisor in Grant Township as of 2015.


Judy Wanchisn (Grant Township resident)

Born in East Run, PA., raised in Grant Twp., and educated in Indiana Co., PA. with a BS and MS degree at Indiana University (IUP), Judy has lived in this rural area for over 60 years. Her grandfather settled here in the 1800’s and the original home, built in 1876, is located in the middle of East Run and the private well water for most of the homes in Grant Twp. comes from the Little Mahoning Watershed. The Wanchisn family moved to East Run in 1976 with their three daughters, Stacy, Tammy and Lisa, and now four grandchildren. Judy taught for 26 years—2 years in Anchorage, Alaska, over 2 years in Eastlake, Ohio and retired from Purchase Line School District in PA. in 2003.  

Life was pretty normal until the fall of 2013 when a proposed injection well threatened the community more than a federal lawsuit from PGE.  Since then the focus of her community efforts revolves around stopping this harmful activity where PGE claims it has a “right” to inject fracking wastewater within the community against the will of those of us who actually live here. With the injection well fight, the East Run Hellbenders Society, Inc. was born in order to mobilize the community in that effort. After writing an unsuccessful appeal to the EPA and a partially successful one to the DEP, the DEP revoked the permit and later suspended another permit which is currently under review. Judy was part of the GSC (Government Study Commission) of 7 members who wrote a Home Rule Charter for Grant Twp. This Charter was successfully passed by 67% of the voters in November, 2015. Grant is fighting to keep local control of the decision-making process for their community.  From the very day that the Supervisors in Grant Twp. learned of the proposed injection well, they have fought its construction and operation, and they believe that they have a right to say “no” to the construction and operation of the injection well as part of their right to govern themselves to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents. Judy Wanchisn, Queenmother of the East Run Hellbenders

East Run Hellbenders Society

The East Run Hellbenders Society operates as a 501c3 nonprofit in the state of Pennsylvania and was banded in April 2014. The group is made up of citizens of Grant Township in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, neighboring townships and concerned friends in other states. Its sole purpose is to protect the safety, health and well-being of the citizens of Grant Township by asserting local governmental rights averse to corporations that seek to put citizens in harm's way in order to benefit its own profits. The East Run Hellbenders Society was named due to the initial efforts of our Queen, Judy Wanchisn, who sought to have the EPA's permit for the proposed injection well planned for Grant Township dismissed because the Eastern Hellbender Salamander resides in the local creeks.

The group feared that the Little Mahoning Creek, which is a popular spot for fishing as well as a home for the salamanders, would be polluted. East Run Hellbenders characterize themselves as, “a committed group intent on asserting local governmental rights for the protection of Grant Township’s environment,” and their sole purpose, “is to protect the safety, health and well-being of the citizens of Grant Township.”


Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

Shortly after the turn of this century, a small municipality in Pennsylvania enacted a local law that inspired the amendment of Ecuador’s Constitution to include community rights and the Rights of Nature. This rebellion is spreading throughout South America, where filmmakers will interview leaders in various countries about the struggle to enforce new legal structures borrowed from the work first done in Pennsylvania.

Alberto Acosta – Former president of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador and leader of the The International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.

Shannon Biggs – Rights advocate who has worked with leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia and other countries adopting the Rights of Nature.

Ninawa Kaxinawá – President of the Huni Kui people in Acre, Brazil fighting agricultural corporations deforesting the Amazon.

SMITHFIELD TOWNSHIP “TANK FARMS” - WASTE NOT group:  Richard & Deborah Stedge, Bruce & Rita Kennedy, Baiba Guidotti and Carolyn Knapp.

COMPLAINT INVESTIGATION - complainants: Elwin Akey, Sr. & Gerald Akey, Jr. - Residents, Delmar Township, Tioga County, PA; Shawn Sethman; Shults Family; Nicolas Kennedy (complainants attorney); Doreen Doherty; Dr. Grace Ziem (complainants doctor); Pepper Family (as they appeared with Public Herald on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).


Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf (2015)

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary, John Quigley (2015)

Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder (2016)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 Administrator, Susan Hedman (2016)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Gina McCarthy (2016)

Bradford County (Pa.), Smithfield Township Supervisors (2014)

Allegheny County (Pa.), Elizabeth Township Zoning Board & Township Supervisors (2016)

Flint Michigan Emergency Managers (2016)

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) (2016)

Sister Patricia Siemen - Director, Center for Earth Jurisprudence (2016)

Elizabeth Township Zoning Hearing Board battle with Invenergy Power Plant (2016)

Mars, PA Zoning Hearing Board argument from attorney Jordan Yeager (2014/2015)

Fort Cherry, PA Zoning Hearing Board arguments with Range Resources (2014)

Ligonier, PA Zoning Hearing Board arguments (2015)


Joshua B. Pribanic - Director/Editor/Producer/Writer

Joshua B. Pribanic is an investigative journalist, photographer, artist and filmmaker who co-founded Public Herald (est. 2011), a nonprofit for investigative journalism, and co-directed the recently acclaimed documentary TRIPLE DIVIDE. He currently operates as the Editor-in-Chief for Public Herald in Pittsburgh’s historic Paramount Film Exchange building. Pribanic’s work as an investigative journalist has been awarded support from the James L. Knight Foundation, Investigative News Network (now Institute for Nonprofit News), and Tesla Motors. For his production and directing of the documentary feature TRIPLE DIVIDE (released March 2013), Pribanic gained international attention for his reporting on fracking shale gas in the United States. The film showcased a number of exclusive stories and exposed abuses to the public interest leading to regulatory accountability on the local and state level. TRIPLE DIVIDE appeared in film festivals nationwide, and thus far has received an audience stretching over 30 countries, while continuing to remain relevant and screen in communities, colleges and festivals.

Pribanic’s 2014 project INVISIBLE HAND, a feature-length documentary, kicked off with an exclusive report in the spring of 2014 that led to the production of the The Daily Show’s first-ever segment on fracking. The project is accompanied by an open source data public records website, or a.k.a. #fileroom, where the largest release of oil and gas records to date is hosted.

Melissa A. Troutman -  Director/Editor/Producer/Writer

Melissa A. Troutman is an investigative journalist, photographer, artist and filmmaker who co-founded Public Herald (est. 2011), a nonprofit for investigative journalism, and co-directed the recently acclaimed documentary TRIPLE DIVIDE (2013). She currently serves as Executive Director for Public Herald. Troutman’s work earned support from over 1,000 donating members of the public, the Investigative News Network (now Institute for Nonprofit News), the James L. Knight Foundation, Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, Mountain Watershed Association and Tesla Motors. Since first tackling the subject in 2010, Troutman has gained international attention for her coverage of fracking in Pennsylvania. She’s writer, editor, director, producer of TRIPLE DIVIDE, which uncovered corruption in the handling of water contamination in rural Pennsylvania. Her first feature film, TRIPLE DIVIDE appeared in film festivals nationwide, has an audience spanning over 30 countries, and continues to remain relevant and screen in communities across the United States.

Troutman’s new documentary project INVISIBLE HAND began in 2014 with her first story about a revolutionary battleground over rights and democracy.

Victor Pribanic - Producer

Victor is the founding member and attorney at Pribanic & Pribanic, a Pittsburgh based regional trial practice firm founded in 1984. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and Duquesne University School of Law and began his career as an Assistant District Attorney in Pittsburgh.

Victor has been a lifelong member of the American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association), the Pennsylvania Association of Trial Lawyers, the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County and a variety of other professional organizations. He is a frequent speaker in the area of trial methods generally and within the medical negligence area.

A native of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, he can usually be found when he is not in the courtroom (depending on the season), wandering around the country with his bird dogs or knee deep in a trout stream with a fly rod.

Travis Kerr - Producer

Having recently graduated from UC Davis with an MFA in Lighting and Scenic Design, Travis lives in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.  

As a Collaborative Professional Storyteller in Scenic and Lighting Design for Stage, Television, and Film, Travis loves building relationships with other passionate artists to explore, challenge, produce and sculpt visual worlds for stories to live and breathe through. He brings an innovative source of creative ideas to the team, finding the right path for each project. Then he critically evaluates each step in the design process with an open mind. Bridging the gap between dreaming and reality, he communicates those ideas to design, technical, and production teams in a way that embraces the strength of the venue, budget and story.

He also strongly believes that telling stories is just plain fun!

Some of his recent work includes Scenic Design for The Dogs of War (a new play by Josy Miller), Scenic Design for The Bacchae at UC Davis, Lighting Design for Parodia (a new opera composition by Pablo Ortiz), Scenic Designer for The Haunt at Wright Hall: The Handless Maiden at UC Davis, and Assisting John Iacovelli at various theaters; notably San Jose Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Pasadena Playhouse, Odyssey Theater III and Shakespeare Santa Cruz.


Written & Directed by Melissa Troutman & Joshua B. Pribanic

Producers Melissa Troutman, Joshua B. Pribanic, Victor Pribanic, Travis Kerr

Director of Photography Melissa Troutman & Joshua B. Pribanic

Editor Melissa Troutman & Joshua B. Pribanic

Composer Philip Glass, [Unknown Works from 19th Century Player Piano], Melissa Troutman

Sound Recording Melissa Troutman, Joshua B. Pribanic, Aziz Lalani, John Nicholson

Graphic Design & Animation Melissa Troutman & Joshua B. Pribanic

Colorist Joshua B. Pribanic

Archival Fair Use Researcher Andrew Geller

#fileroom Researcher

Special Thanks to Indiegogo Backers

Thank You

*[final credits will be submitted on October 1, 2016]

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