USF Graduate Debuts Documentary at Green Film Festival of San Francisco

Film tells the story of big oil and climate change

by Evan Elliot, USF News

At the start of her senior year at USF, Giuliana Salomone ’22 had never operated a video camera. By the end, she’d shot, edited, and released her first film.

Oil Washed, a documentary shown last month at the Green Film Festival of San Francisco, tells the story of big oil and the role of fossil fuels in global warming. The eight-minute film features Stephanie Siehr, activist, musician, and professor of environmental management at USF.

“I want to shine a light on the people like Professor Siehr who are fighting for climate justice and for human rights — the right to clean air,” said Salomone.

According to Siehr, oil companies have known since the 1950s that emissions change the climate. But, much as the tobacco industry did in the 1970s and 1980s, big oil has denied allegations against it.

“First you deny that your product is harmful,” Salomone said. “And then you try to discredit your critics, including scientists. And then, when you can no longer deny the harm you’re doing, you turn green — or at least you pretend to.”

Oil washing is greenwashing, Siehr says in the film. “Oil and gas companies want their activities and their products to be perceived as environmental when they’re not. Natural gas is made to seem as if it’s ‘natural’ and ‘clean,’ but it’s mostly methane, which is a more potent fossil fuel than oil in terms of [global] warming.”

Oil washing is a complex story, Salomone said, but telling it from the perspective of one person — Stephanie Siehr — makes it easier to understand. “I was excited to find a professor at USF who’s an expert on climate change and who can speak about it.”

USF Calling

Salomone grew up in Oyster Bay, New York, and started her college career as a psychology major at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. When she found her interests shifting toward media, she transferred to USF.  

“I’d visited San Francisco back when I was in high school and I fell in love with it,” she said. “And then I learned about USF and found that its mission and values aligned with mine. And USF’s media program seemed like a really good fit for trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”

Salomone made Oil Washed in the documentary filmmaking class taught by Michael Workman, an adjunct professor in the media studies program.

“It was really cool to learn from someone whose films have won awards, and who also just understands how to make a documentary and what it takes,” Salomone said. “He was just so helpful and kind in helping the whole class navigate a short documentary.”

A Job in the Media

In fall 2022, Salomone landed a job at KQED, the public television and radio station in San Francisco. “I’m a newscast intern for their radio, so I’ll go to press conferences and get audio and then write radio scripts, and sometimes record them with my voice,” she said. “I’ve been on air, which is super exciting. I feel lucky to be there at KQED, because everyone who works there is just so supportive and really wants you to learn.”

For her part, Siehr said that “crafting and sharing messages in Oil Washed is a highlight of my career thus far — more exciting than any technical publication. I really want more people to learn how to exercise their power in pushing climate action, because collectively we do have power.”