The catastrophic oil spill caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon petroleum rig in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 was a disaster of epic proportions, and according to the new documentary "The Big Fix," the havoc it wreaked is far from over. Filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell ("Fuel") used their cameras to expose the ugly truth after a visit to Josh's native New Orleans, when it became clear that the problems are ongoing and getting worse. "The oil appears to still be leaking. The deadly chemical dispersant Corexit 9527 is still being sprayed and humans along the Gulf Coast as well as shrimp and fish populations appear to be sick," he said, showing photos of tumor-ridden fish and abnormal crab at a press conference for the film, where several fellow Louisianans corroborated his statements.
"Lives are devastated by this environmental crime for which no one has been indicted," said attorney Stuart Smith, who represents more than 1,000 individuals and businesses in the Gulf and appears in the film. Citing the thousands of dolphins, turtles, shellfish and other marine creatures that have died, "The impact is bad enough, but what's even more frightening is the oil is still leaking and bubbling up at the site where the rig once stood," he said. "We have been lied to. It was leaking when Josh and Rebecca were filming, and it's still leaking. BP downplayed the significance of the spill, which they're still doing today. It's time that the government and BP tell the American people the truth."
Dean Blanchard, whose shrimp processing company was once the largest in the U.S., has seen his supply dwindle to "less than 1 percent of the shrimp we produced before. We get shrimp with oil in the gills and shrimp with no eyes. The fish are dead and there are no dolphins swimming around my house." He knows five people who worked on cleanup crews who have died, and he suffers from sinus and throat problems. Former shrimper Margaret Curole's healthy 31-year-old son worked two months on the cleanup and became so sick from dispersant exposure that he lost 52 pounds and is now unable to walk without a cane. "Most of the seafood is dead or toxic. I wouldn't feed it to my cat," said her husband Kevin Curole, a fifth-generation shrimper who, like Blanchard, had friends who died from Corexit exposure. "I used to be a surfer but I won't go in the water anymore," he said. "The last time I did my eyes and lips were burning."
Spending 18 months on and off working on "The Big Fix" in the Gulf, Rebecca Harrell also became a victim. "We spent a lot of time on the water and on the beaches, and we were told repeatedly by local officials that the water and air were not dangerous, that we didn't need to wear a respirator and should not because it would cause people to be afraid," she began. "Shortly after we started filming, I started to notice strange symptoms. The skin on my feet was peeling off where I had walked in flip-flops on the beach. On my chest I had blisters, all the way up to my neck, that didn't go away and were extremely painful. I had blood in my urine until February of this year and 13 upper respiratory infections. I was told by two different doctors that the source of my illness was exposure to oil and dispersant. It's an irreversible condition. For the rest of my life I will not be able to expose the skin on my chest and neck to the sun. My condition is permanent. And it upsets me greatly to think that there are thousands of people who have been exposed like I have."
Actor and activist Tim Robbins (pictured right with Rebecca and Josh) became an executive producer on the film after Rebecca Harrell corralled him at a west L.A. natural foods store and invited him to view some footage. He was in New Orleans when the spill happened, and he quickly realized that BP's use of Corexit "was purely cosmetic and not environmentally responsible," a means to depict the spill "as a lot less catastrophic than it actually was, and get rid of the evidence, because their fine is based on the size of the spill." Robbins cited scientific evidence that "40 percent of the Gulf floor is covered in oil right now, killing the ecosystem. The sixth largest body of water in the world has been compromised and could be on its way to extinction.
"The larger issue is the system is corrupt," continued Robbins, questioning why "the first license issued for offshore drilling after the moratorium [was] granted to BP. The government has given up on its responsibility to protect the public interest and instead is allowing corporations to determine policy and environmental safety. What we're seeing with the oil spill and the illnesses from it is what happens when we allow corporations to determine public policy. Corporations' interest is purely profit. It's nothing to do with our safety and interests. Why are we allowing this? It's our responsibility as citizens of this country to keep these people in check, particularly when they threaten our environment with extinction and our lives."
Josh Tickell noted that he'd attempted numerous times to interview BP representatives and actually succeeded in getting someone from the company to comment about the continuing use of Corexit, but BP denied permission to use the interview. "Any allegations that the film is in any way one-sided is due to the fact that BP declined to tell their side of the story," he said. Ominously, he believes that a similar catastrophe could happen elsewhere, such as Alaska, now that the offshore drilling moratorium has been lifted. "Unless we see new safety regulations put in place there will be a repeat performance," he warned. "There are areas of the Arctic where there are no cleanup crews, no port. We're going to see levels of devastation that we have not seen."
Having opened in New Orleans on Nov. 4, "The Big Fix" will begin a one-week engagement at AMC Santa Monica on Nov. 11 and open in New York at the AMC Village on Dec. 2. "We won't stop until this film is distributed," vowed Harrell Tickell.
Photo: Vivien Killilea