“The lights went out. Then the first explosion hit us.”
“It flipped me through the air like a ragdoll.”
These are just a couple of the many thought-provoking, powerful excerpts found in the award-winning film “The Great Invisible,” which documents the aftermath of the largest oil spill in U.S. history that shook the Gulf Coast, and even the entire nation, on April 20, 2010.
The documentary, directed by Alabama-native filmmaker Margaret Brown, explores the fallout of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and digs deeper into communities that are still feeling the effects of the high-profile environmental disaster long after the nonstop national media coverage stopped.
Instead of being another “media machine” producing “disaster porn,” Brown asked herself, “what is going to happen when all the cameras leave? What’s that going to be like?”
Having grown up in Mobile, Brown brings a unique, personal connection to the film, which initially spawned from photos her father showed her of their Pelican Point home in Weeks Bay.
“In the pictures you could see the orange boom,” she said, remembering the photograph of workers surrounding her parents’ home during cleanup efforts. “It was just weird. I just remember thinking it didn’t look like their house.”
Brown recalled talking to her father, who she remembered being very concerned about the seafood industry.
For almost three months, millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, raising questions about not only the local seafood industry, but also entire ecosystems and the overall safety of offshore drilling.
“No one knew what was going to happen,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anyone knew what to do.”
While many people compared the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to a hurricane, Brown said it was the complete opposite. With hurricanes, there are usually preparation and recovery plans, she said.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill had no precedent.
“There was no routine,” Brown said. “There’s so many unknowns. I think that really resonated with me.”
Many of the people featured in the movie, specifically workers on the rig itself, have not yet received compensation from BP, she said. Furthermore, many of them continue to battle post-traumatic stress disorder and other complications stemming from the disaster.
“I didn’t really tell anybody that I was involved ‘cause I didn’t know if I should be proud of it or embarrassed by it you know,” one worker said in the film. “And I still don’t know.”
Out of the rig’s 126 crewmembers, 11 people lost their lives and many more were injured in the explosion that could be seen 35 miles away. Five years later, effects from the blast still linger.
“One [worker] has really bad nightmares and a lot of guilt,” Brown said. “I think it was really powerful for them to have an audience and be able to discuss this stuff.”
The movie has been shown in numerous areas not directly affected by the oil spill, primarily in northern states and cities like Austin, Texas, up until two weeks ago when a screening was held in New Orleans.
According to Brown, it marked the first screening on the “real” Gulf Coast.
“People were so angry,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared for the anger people feel toward BP and (co-defendant) Transocean. I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotion people brought to it.”
There were “tons” of people in the audience who had not yet received any compensation money from BP, Brown said.
In making the movie, Brown said she felt like people in the South had a notion that northerners did not truly understand the life-changing impact the oil spill had on coastal communities and their way of life, citing it could take 30 years to fully understand the impact to seafood.
While setting out to document the lasting effects on small Southern communities, Brown met a man named Roosevelt in Bayou la Batre who became one of the main characters in the film and ultimately the “heart of the movie.” In fact, though her favorite aspects of the film fluctuate, Brown named spending a lot of time in Bayou la Batre and just “hanging out” with Roosevelt as one of her favorite things about the process.
Furthermore, she said the movie’s goal is not to point fingers at BP or simply highlight the company’s faults. Instead, it is to focus on a much bigger story about how everyone is connected to the oil industry.
“I feel like people don’t understand how we’re all connected by using petroleum,” Brown said. “The longer I did it, the more I thought we are all connected.”
According to an infographic on film’s website, the United States uses more than 765 million gallons of oil every day, which equates to nearly 23 percent of the world’s oil. Furthermore, 40 percent of the nation’s oil processing plants and nearly 4,000 oil and gas platforms are located in the Gulf of Mexico.
The infographic also depicts how much oil is used to produce everyday items like car tires, cell phones and even hamburgers.
Ultimately, Brown hopes “The Great Invisible” opens the eyes of consumers and helps them understand the hidden oil in their everyday lives.
“I think it’s essential for us to move forward as a culture,” she said.
Brown took home the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary for “The Great Invisible” at this year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin. She also directed the award-winning film “The Order of Myths,” documenting segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and “Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt.”
The Gulf Coast theatrical premiere of “The Great Invisible” will be held at Mobile’s Saenger Theatre Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. with doors at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $15 and all proceeds will be donated to the Bayou Recovery Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping recovery efforts for the people of South Mobile County.
Tickets can be purchased at https://thegreatinvisiblemobile.splashthat.com.
The fundraiser screening will be followed by a question and answer session with Brown and other special guests.
For more information about the film and how to take action, please visit www.takepart.com/great-invisible.