First impressions: oil disaster doc The Big Fix



The Big Fix's cold open starts years before the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010. Archive footage illustrates how the company then-named British Petroleum, aided by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, wrangled control of Iran's government and retained rights to its plentiful oil fields. The Islamic revolution, in part a response to the Western seizure of Iran, ended BP's occupation — leaving the documentary to consider where else BP would need to go to support its oil habits: The Gulf of Mexico.

What follows is nothing new, synthesizing the last year of oil disaster coverage — from its victims living on the coast, impacts to their health and wellbeing, impacts to wildlife, bumbling media coverage, lack of media coverage, denied media access, seafood safety, the countdown "soap opera" drama, Tony Hayward and the inevitable transfer of power, the oil's return... a dizzying display of corporate defiance, government ineptitude and flat-out lies and deceptions, all stacked into a two-hour block for national and international viewers. It has the makings of a conspiracy thriller, but clearly this is for a disaster we know is real, ongoing, and has nothing working against it.

Louisiana native Josh Tickell and with his wife Rebecca direct the film, a sort of follow up to their 2008 doc Fuel, which had its New Orleans release in June 2010. Tickell takes the same celebrity players along for the ride to south Louisiana: Peter Fonda and Amy Smart visit shrimpers, residents, captains and beaches. Tickell narrates, but frequently the film gets personal — hidden cameras, sneaking onto beaches, and Rebecca experiencing symptoms doctor-diagnosed as chemical exposure following several boat trips in dispersant-sprayed waterways.

The film takes a step back and evaluates just how much influence oil and gas companies have on national politics. From post-Kingfish Louisiana to the "revolving door" policy (a la the John Breaux-Trent Lott lobby group) to campaign contributions — a network of clear-cut influence from Big Oil into Washington D.C. and elsewhere, while oil companies stomp out legislation for environmental and regulatory oversight, leaving companies like BP to get away with as much as possible with as little interference as possible. We know the consequences. The Gulf Waterkeeper Alliance just released its 2011 State of the Gulf report, counting millions of gallons of oil and gas discharged into Gulf waters from September 2010 to September 2011. BP plugged its leaking well in August 2010.

For all its messy imagery and oftentimes hamfisted civil rights rallying cries, The Big Fix is a massively important film, if only because, as American Zombie writes, it "may be the best opportunity we have to get the truth out about the reality of this oil spill." Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Goddell says we need so badly a wakeup call — and if this disaster isn't big enough, what the hell is?

The film screens tonight at 8:45 p.m. at the Prytania Theater, and again 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Chalmette Movies. Tickets are available online for the Wednesday screening.

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