‘Dispatches from the Gulf’ Documentary Spotlights Researchers Studying Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Cheng Li, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, watches a wave in the wave tank he built for the study of how waves split oil slicks into smaller droplets. He is one of the many scientists featured in the new documentary "Dispatches from the Gulf." (Screenscope)

Cheng Li, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, watches a wave in the wave tank he built for the study of how waves split oil slicks into smaller droplets. He is one of the many scientists featured in the new documentary “Dispatches from the Gulf.” (Screenscope)

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig off the Louisiana coast, blew up. The explosion killed 11 people, and the resulting oil spill, the largest in U.S. history, killed hundreds of thousands of animals and produced 65,000 square miles of oil slicks off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The area’s $100 billion tourism industry suffered as people fled the oil-covered beaches, and the commercial fishing industry was thrown into jeopardy.

(From redeye /by Margaux Henquinet) — “Dispatches from the Gulf,” narrated by Matt Damon, streams live on YouTube on Wednesday, the sixth anniversary of the disaster. It doesn’t go too much into the explosion itself, or the subsequent cleanup and recovery. Rather, more than anything, it’s a love letter to the flourishing research community that sprang up afterward. The oil spill created a perfect lab for scientists to study the effects of such disasters and better understand the ocean.

There’s no question that the oil spill has royally messed up a lot of things in the gulf. Oil blankets much of the ocean floor, killing corals and other organisms. Mahi-mahi fish that were exposed to oil aren’t swimming as well, impeding their ability to catch prey and evade predators, and their offspring have weak hearts. Some fish populations that fell have rebounded, but the fish are smaller and weigh less. And there could be more trouble to come; much is still unknown.

But even though the discoveries are troubling, and a definite call to pay more attention to the oceans and their health, the documentary is not a downer. It’s lightened by the scientists it features, more than a dozen men and women from all over, from students to experienced professionals, all obviously so passionate about and dedicated to their research.

It would have been nice if “Dispatches,” had spent more time on the people who live in the affected areas and how the disaster changed their lives. And the documentary says the least about what might alarm viewers most: Although it’s stated a few times that the gulf’s fish are safe to eat, it’s mentioned casually, without supporting evidence. After all the discussion of contaminants and the trouble they cause, it would be reassuring to hear hard numbers about what is or is not hiding in our dinners. The same goes for the beaches; some of the names that pop up in the film are the same ones that show up on Facebook during spring break season—Gulf Shores, Ala.; Panama City, Fla.—and it would be great to be assured that Deepwater Horizon oil isn’t still showing up there, or that it’s not harmful if it does.

But overall, “Dispatches” is well worth watching. Created by Hal and Marilyn Weiner (the husband-and-wife team behind the PBS series “Journey to Planet Earth”) and funded in part by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the documentary feels both shorter and longer than its 55 minutes, packing in a lot of facts and people in a way that is never slow or boring. The camera work is a treat, offering shots from up in the air, under the water and close up on the action. Proceed with caution if blood, guts and dissection make you sick, but if you can make it through that, you’ll be rewarded with shots of shimmering fish, big jellies and stingrays, and various tentacled creatures that barely look real. Don’t blame me if the film makes you wish that you, too, had built a career out on the ocean.

Read the full article here: http://www.redeyechicago.com/trending/redeye-dispatches-from-the-gulf-documentary-matt-damon-deepwater-horizon-20160418-story.html

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