Wednesday, September 8, 2010

“Gulf Coast Blues” shows mettle of Spokane filmmaker’s vision

“I ask for water, and she gave me gasoline
I ask for water, give me gasoline
I ask for water and she gave me gasoline
Lord, Lordy Lord.”

” Cool Drink of Water Blues ” (1928, Memphis) by Tommy Johnson

Some in that darkened theater laughed like hell when the Cajun did a little white rap riff on the Beverly Hillbillies a la BP.

They liked the Spanish moss scenes with the pretty ibises and egrets almost floating like clouds.

When children came into scenes of Marc Gauthier’s film, “Gulf Coast Blues: Oil in their Veins,” some of the grandma types at the Magic Lantern giggled at their profundity in the face of blasphemy.

Music kicks up the film’s pace when the Coast Guard, BP reps and politicians ooze their incompetence on the screen.

The filmmaker even scores a jerky shot of himself choking up when he realizes two dolphins shooting muddy blow-hole vapor are going to be toast in a few days with oil encrusting their skin.

Not coated in Jed Clampett’s black gold … not really oil … crude that is, mixed with Corectix.

There has been much anticipation leading to Marc’s film. (see trailer here.) I’ve been with this project, as chronicler of his travels from Spokane down to Grand Isle, La., since May.

Now his dream, his child, is fully gestated, and what the viewer gets is beyond visceral footage of incompetence in the form of fouled beaches and sludge-drenched wildlife. What this baby offers is a chance to suck it up and witness the transformation of one guy, Gauthier, into us, 2,500 miles away from what many Americans see as the South’s mess.

After watching Marc’s film, I hope most viewers will come away with a pride and a sense of dishonor.

Pride because this out-of-work guy from Michigan, who’s been in Spokane trying the mete out a living, took his rage – at BP’s explosion that killed 11 men, at 2 million gallons of oil leaking daily into one of the world’s prime fisheries, at how the media and government gave BP a green light to lie – and funneled that ire into a project.

Marc headed South, with no contacts or experience there. He gathered a few donations, strapped his old sea kayak to the rental car, and departed with a general plan of filming how one American might actually help fellow Americans.

His film is that “ground-truthing,” and the misery of being turned down time and again as a volunteer is part of the narrative thread. But the film courses through unfolding scenes of media blackouts, absolute corporate incompetence and what the South has to put up with from this point onward.

Those confused, broken-down, sarcastic people in this film are us.

Don’t kid yourself though – “Gulf Coast Blues” is not all gloom and doom, shots of gasping pelicans, huge panoramas of shining oil-sheen-covered sea, or Southern politicians “tea party dunking” Obama.

It’s about a man, an idea, a vision, a way of thinking and a type of gumption that’s pretty much endangered.

The dishonor I mentioned isn’t just an easy uppercut to the media, corporate America, and an obese government, or how the Coast Guard, EPA, MMA, National Guard, the governor of Louisiana, or the Rupert Murdochs of the world foiled truth and action.

It’s about American spirit, like some seagull, drenched in an oil-dispersant cocktail, flagging at every opportunity. It’s about us, not having the will or guts to take back this government, and forcing the hand of every corrupt politician and greedy CEO to join us in participatory democracy.

I’ve been a journalist in Arizona when the “first” story on the “drug” tunnel was broken by a colleague. I’ve been along the Chiapas, Mexico, and Guatemala border living with and reporting on the dregs of the Reagan doctrine and his administration’s support of despots and military killing machines there.

I’ve followed environmentalists along the US-Mexico border fighting free trade and even freer pollution in Mexico and along the Texas border. I’ve been to Vietnam and written about what capitalism and “normalization” of trade does to fisheries and coral reefs.

This film is me when I was in my 20s. It’s me now, 30 years later, still fighting the fight, Spokane’s Sisyphus, except my Hades is the U.S. of oil.

Marc points out this addiction as he heads south and sees the endless snake of semis and SUVs coming and going on America’s interstate highways.

This film is poetic, full of rough edges, along the order of true low- budget documentary style. Too many people I’ve talked to were reluctant to go see it because they didn’t want their lives soiled with more images of dying wildlife and buffoonery from their Democratic Administration.

These same people I admonished, harangued into supporting Sustainable September’s local filmmaker, and the same people I’ve tried to convince to see “The Cove.”

“Gulf Coast Blues” for me has little to do with BP’s fiasco, if we dare call it that, since entire ecosystems are in peril along with the people exploiting them.

It’s about facing down lawmakers and captains of industry, and the media. This film is in the same category as Lourdes Portillo’s 2001 documentary, “Senorita Extravida,” about and dedicated to the female victims of the Juarez murders.

Like those Mexico murders (taking place all over Mexico now), we need more films about BP, the death of science, the explosion of sarcasm and acceptance as a result of this 480 million gallons of oil and Corectix lie.

Marc’s film is that hot electric wire whipping inside your belly. You know who you are – you vote progressive, you have a 401-K plan that’s doing Wall Street well, you hike in Colorado once a year, and your Prius is well maintained.

His film is about our own incompetence, not the Southern man’s unwillingness to revolt and take on the Blackhawk helicopters and roving bands of security teams.

One fellow in the audience blasted the people Marc depicts in the film, attacking them as lazy, waiting for the government or BP to render aid.

“Why don’t they stop complaining and just get their shovels and start cleaning up?” he asked rhetorically of Marc.

Others in the crowd said they thought there’d be legions of volunteers from Spokane, Republic, even Idaho coming to Puget Sound’s rescue if an oil disaster of the Deepwater Horizon magnitude befell them.

This is the power of “Gulf Coast Blues”: it allows some viewers that special vantage point, allows for some to lambast their fellow American, allows for a certain suspension of reality.

The reality Marc’s film and others like his precipitate is that we are doomed if we can’t collectively face down power, dislodge the propaganda machines and throw monkey wrenches in the polluters’ gear work.

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