Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gumbo, gumption and Gulf Coast Blues revisited

Interest remains strong in Spokane filmmaker’s oil chronicle

These days, he’s lifting fencing with rougher and rougher hands – not exactly the mitts of a film editor.

His face is burnt by the sun, and the shadowy basalt up-bursts near the Mount Spokane farm he and his girlfriend share are his treasure in his thoughts, and heart. He talks about raising rabbits, growing vegetables, and the coming hot days of summer.

The Gulf Coast debacle and terror campaign by British Petroleum are not far from Marc Gauthier’s mind, though.

He shuttles through the 70-minute film, “Gulf Coast Blues: Oil in Our Veins.” Showing highlights for 50-minute campus time slots. He punctuates the frustration he experienced last year trying to get help for birds and animals, the shame of living in a country addicted to oil and mired in political and bureaucratic malaise and intentional incompetence.

“You just have to go out there and get involved in something in your community … and don’t take no for an answer,” Gauthier said. The crowd at a recent showing at Spokane Falls Community College was sparse – 40 – considering the topic, the local angle, the magnificent applicability of a Spokane guy who took on an issue 2,000 miles away.

One 30-year-old student came up to him after the event and expressed how tough the economic times are: “My three boys are selling tomato plants to help us get by.”

Gauthier listened to the SFCC student, who just a year ago made a hefty $40 an hour installing alarm systems, a job gone belly-up because of Wall Street, K-Street and the unraveling of the American education system and consumer-dying economy.

The male student kept repeating how he has to keep teaching his kids about sustainability and conservation because the public schools are not. Sustainability, localism, and new ways to lift families and communities to a survival mode were topics many in the audience in Building 24 broached.

Students and others were held in rapt concentration as Marc Gauthier talked activism, filmmaking, and what it means to be a 36-year-old with a double degree from the Evergreen State College and SFCC/SCC coursework from long ago.

“I knew I had to do something with my training in wildlife biology when I saw the news of the oil,” he told the audience as part of the school’s theme, Survival: Enduring Humanity (see http://www.spokanefalls.edu/college/Theme/Home.aspx )

The book, Zeitoun, is part of the year-long theme as a common reader. It’s about a Syrian-American construction contractor, essentially a hero, who stayed behind during the dark days after New Orleans was gutted by Katrina and government ineptitude. (For more on Abdulrahman Zeitoun, go here: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/8/27/exclusivezeitoun_how_a_hero_in_new_

I’ve had Marc on my radio show, “Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge" (see here: http://www.kyrs.org/showprofile.cfm?id=1234986643431 ), and we’ve reconvened the story of 480 million gallons of crude, methane and so-called dispersant dumped into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Those people I came to know and befriend are worse off now than when I was there for the first traces of oil hitting Grand Isle’s shores,” he said.

One of the scenes the SFCC crowd saw included the poignant exposure of Marc’s emotions as he tried holding back tears May 20, 2010, when he witnessed the oil sheen, oil globules and toxic vapors rising as Gulf dolphins, covered in oil, breached the surface for air.

Since then, we’ve learned that tens of thousands of marine animals died, and we know BP and their thugs collected animal species and shipped them off to be immolated.

One of the remarkable aspects of this May 25 event was the students who talked to Marc one-on-one before the screening as he served up drinks and food in the building’s foyer. More than 120 people enjoyed Northern Lights Brewery’s coleslaw, vegetarian gumbo and lemonade. Sarah Dyer, SFCC student and Northern Lights cook, was more than happy to share food in what she described as “rotten economic times.”

In the audience were several canoe guides from the Chewelah-based Voyages of Rediscovery outdoor river trip company. Annie Forman and Adam Wicks-Arshack (look for a story on their experiential learning non-profit in DTE soon), Evergreen College grads, asked Marc about safety — his own — during the initial thuggery BP and the U.S. government unleashed onto locals and paid clean-up folk, as well as the media.

One scene (see trailer here: http://www.downtoearthnw.com/stories/2010/jul/23/local-filmmaker-one-step-closer-premiering/?video) has Marc frustrated by the lack of coordination by BP, the National Guard and other governments, and so he travels into the swamps outside the Grand Isle area to stash his video tapes after receiving dozens of threats and intimations of “go on back to your Pacific Northwest … this isn’t your affair” from many sources.

On the SFCC campus, Marc caught the air of downtrodden students who see fewer opportunities to be part of a green, sustainable and alternative energy future. Many argued about the retreating overpaid administrators and state lawmakers gutting their futures, literally, by hacking at course offerings, sacking faculty and generally failing to make concerted efforts to keep Washington’s economy going with a vibrant community college system feeding into four-year schools.

Dyer laughed when she recognized one “overpaid” dean walking in the building near the food – “Why is he always walking around with such a dour face?” We overheard another SFCC staffer blurt out – “You aren’t serving students on that nice Chinaware, are you?”

On that warm day Marc stood speaking with dynamic, interested and uninformed students about the oil industry, the overreliance on fossil fuel, and the fight ahead: “You all have to take your education and make community solutions to all these problems we have with oil and the environment … it’s up to you, the future generations.”

It was a good day to be a human, in a building named in Salish for “community gathering place, where community and commerce come together” — sn-w’ey’-mn.

“Man, I never thought vegetarian gumbo could be so tasty,” one Running Start student told us.

Marc smiled, his face ruddy from outdoor work: “After you eat that, be sure to hear what oil companies and your government do not want you to know.”

Stay tuned for more Gulf Coast Blues: Oil in Our Veins screenings, and look for Marc’s produce in local restaurants.

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