Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Stories, Narratives, Turn to Truths -- Gulf Stories

Filmmaking 101:

Out with the Lies, in with the Dispatches from a Disaster –
Oil, the Gulf Coast, the Lives of them All

By Paul K. Haeder

“You go boy, and tell all your people up north what’s really happening down here with the oil mess.”

What more of an endorsement does one Spokane filmmaker need to realize that hitting the road in a subcompact Avis rental with a shoe-string budget of donated food and gear as lifelines was the right choice?

Marc Gauthier, just recently laid off from the Main Market Co-op, after selling off his Natural Start bakery on Hamilton because of the daily hemorrhaging of most of his business to the Gonzaga fav, Star Bucks, told himself he had to pick himself up by the bootstraps. The moment Gauthier heard about the Deepwater Horizon British Petroleum well explosion that took the lives of eleven rig workers April 20, Gauthier knew he wanted to “risk it” and make a film.

“Why not go down there? An able bodied thirty-five year old with all these skills, why not throw in and help and make a film at the same time?”

He’d never before been to the Gulf Coast, having grown up in Michigan and then ending up out West with a degree in natural resources management from Evergreen State College. When he arrived on the coast, on Grand Isle ten days ago, the heat was on in more ways than one.

Old timers and shrewd businessmen and women using the bounty of the Gulf Coast’s seas as an open door to livelihoods running hotels, restaurants, and shops as well as commercial and sport fishing (not to mention construction and direct work in the offshore oil fields) have been clamoring to make sense of one calamity after another since that well head blowout has been bleeding, by some estimates, 500,000 to four million gallons of oil a day in the once biologically diverse, fecund Gulf of Mexico.

Gauthier is there filming shrimpers, oil industry workers, hillbilly musicians, nurses, the retirees, the 70-year-olds who have seen the tidelands and complex estuaries ripped apart by oil, refining and shipping.

He’s been my voice box for what has turned out to be an innovative project, called Dispatches from a Disaster, on Down to Earth. The narrative threads he’s been sending like gossamer on the wind have allowed me to dramatically engage readers in his journey, and his transformation.

He’s been interviewing every sort of Gulf Coast resident or visitor; been to press conferences; talked with National Guardsmen and BP reps; been in the oil-fouled seas with biologists and fishers folk; picked up dead sea turtles and gannets; witnessed firsthand the ineptitude of EPA, Coast Guard and BP officials lying, engaging in subterfuge and abandoning people and their histories day after day.

“Seriously, coming in from a three-hour sea kayak reconnaissance, these people on the dock came up to me and gave me a slap on the back, a few hugs in some cases. They’ve seen a complete clamp down on media and wonder who’s listening to their story. I tell them I am. And they’ve said a lot of things, but most emblematic have been comments like, ‘Where you from, son, Spokane? All the way from where, Washington? Hell, we’re waiting to see this film of yours. Make sure you get our story. Let us know when you finish it.’”

A bit of naiveté, drive, vision, creative juice and financial suicide are the haymakers of American independence and self-creation. The same elements make a true film documentarian in the style of those who have blown away the hearts and minds of audiences and if they are lucky, blown apart the walls of injustice.

They “get it” in Venice and Elmer Island, Louisiana, that some guy from Spokane would be interested in the Gulf oil disaster. With a few films under his belt, including one documenting the efforts to mitigate the problems with another water system as vast and elegant as the marshlands and barrier island ecosystems in the Gulf – Puget Sound – Gauthier’s immediate story is the narrative of ecosystems and Gulf Coast culture played out under the worst environmental disaster in America’s history.

His larger aim is to make sure BP “doesn’t make a dime from any profits from that well.”

It’s not a heavy lift understanding this documentary’s art form will be compelling to us in the Pacific Northwest. We, like the people of the Gulf, are the original actors in our scenes. Filmmakers, better positioned than writers many times, are our storytellers, interpreters of this circus of modernity.

Those raw moments in the Gulf will be the drama every Spokanite will be able to connect with once Marc has that hour-long film done.

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To keep up with the Dispatches project, go to:

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