Cinema Libre // 2012 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 23rd, 2013
"I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest." -- BP CEO Tony Hayward, in an interview with Sky News
On April 20, 2010, an offshore oil rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded some 40 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, sinking, killing eleven workers, and causing the biggest manmade environmental disaster in world history. When the five thousand foot deep oil well was finally capped some three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil were spilled into the ocean. BP, or British Petroleum, who owned the rig, tried their best to disavow responsibility for the disaster and, mostly, they succeeded, but the consequences of the disaster were far-reaching and are still with us today.
A few months later, director Bryan D. Hopkins travelled to southern Louisiana to talk to some of the people who were affected by the spill, going to shrimpers, distributors, and community activists to discuss how they have individually coped with the problem and to find out from them how those in power have skirted their responsibilities for the sake of their own profits.
Most of the subject matter involves the workers and their families, whether they're the people on the boats, the people who sell the ice for the boats, or the restaurateurs who sell the seafood the others produce. All of them have been detrimentally affected by the disaster, in different but similar ways, and none of them have much hope for their future in their respective businesses.
The one thing they all agree on is that, while the oil spill was bad enough, it was the chemical dispersant, Corexit, that has done most of the damage. The industry's theory was that the dispersant would break the oil up into small enough droplets for microbes to digest it. There is evidence to this, but what happens to the dispersant? It stays in the water. That the substance has been banned in Europe for over a decade, that an element in the mixture is known not only to cause genetic mutation in marine life, but is suspected of being a major cause of sickness in those who helped clean up the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, and that a BP board member also sits on the board of Nalco, the company that manufactures Corexit all present a scary picture of the lack of oversight and lack of regulation that may well have made what was a horrendous environmental disaster even worse.
Hopkins presents all of this in a clear and concise manner. The interviews are intercut with footage of Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, and other executives of the oil industry making excuses and shooing away blame for what happened. Some will argue with Dirty Energy for not giving the industry a fair shake, but don't they get a fair enough shake from the lazy governmental regulation that is supposed to prevent this kind of thing? Some then might say that BP has suffered because of the $20 billion payout they've been ordered to make. To which I'll refer back to the film, which cogently lays out how, after the spill in Alaska, Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion and, after twenty years of appeals, whittled that down to approximately $500 million, or ten cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, those affected suffered while the oil industry thrived, using litigation to assure themselves relative absolution of their crimes.
Nobody knows what damages BP will finally pay and nobody knows what the ultimate environmental impact to the gulf coast will be. I suspect that neither outcome will be positive for the people of the region. Dirty Energy shows this with solid informational skill, but little in the way of artfulness. While not necessary in a movie like this, it helps; really, the film is individuals and experts talking, mixed in with some odious footage. Almost all of that is available elsewhere and, while the personal stories are interesting and sad, the film is far from cinematic. While the film is valuable, it's good without being nearly great.
Dirty Energy has received a decent DVD release from Cinema Libre. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is a little rough at times, and with all the archival footage, has a very mixed level of quality, but it performs well enough for a documentary. The new material is generally clear, with decent detail, but it's definitely a cheaper production and the image suffers some for it. The sound isn't so great, as well. While most of the interview segments sound fine, the most interesting subject, the shrimper, is filmed much of the time on his boat, and the noise makes the viewer struggle to hear him sometimes. Luckily, these parts have subtitles, a concession that had to be made, but it's disappointing.
As extras, we have two short featurettes. The first has Hopkins returning to the site more recently (it claims three years, but since it hasn't been three years since the spill, the actual timeframe is unclear) to revisit with some of his subject to see how they have fared. In general, not great, but as they described in the film, they do their best to get by. The second is a fairly disturbing look at the genetic mutations of gulf shrimp since the spill, with Riki Ott, the marine biologist who is the big expert of the film. Tumors, missing eyes or eye sockets entirely, grossly misshapen heads, all shown in close detail. It's short, but effective.
Dirty Energy is a good documentary for what it is. It presents the information in a straightforward manner while allowing the subjects to present most of the opinions. There's little here that one can't learn with a bit of research, but Hopkins puts it together in a decent package without much fuss. Moderately recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated