Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy 2011! Let's Start the Year with a Documentary

In pursuit of further film knowledge, I enrolled in a continuing education class at Stanford University this semester.  It's entitled "10 Films that Shook the World."  It is conjointly taught by Jasmina Bojic and Mick LaSalle.  Jasmina Bojic is a Stanford professor who is also a journalist with a long history covering film festivals and award ceremonies.  She also created and runs the international documentary film festival UNAFF.  Mick LaSalle is a film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle as well as an author of several books about film: "Complicated Women: Sex and the Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" and "Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man." He also happens to be one of my favorite film critics so I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity.  My first class was last night and was taught by Jasmina who showed us the film "Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez." Here is an excerpt from the website devoted to the film:

Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, marine biologist Riki Ott and the fishers in the town of Cordova, Alaska remind us that the biggest environmental catastrophe in North American history is still with us. Over time, its consequences have become all the more apparent and painful. The spill has profoundly altered the lives of tens of thousands of people, reducing them to poverty and despair.

Before beginning the film, Jasmina asked us how much we remember about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and there was silence.  Most of us remember it happening but we had little information about what occurred afterward and what's happening at the present time.  "See," she said "this is why documentaries can be so important."  The film centered around the lives of several families in the city of Cordova which was the hardest hit by the Exxon disaster.  The fishing industry there was destroyed and has never recovered.  If you dig down about a foot, the oil is still present in the sand.  The clean up crews that Exxon sent to the area three years (yes, three years) after the spill are still suffering the lasting effects of the "safe" chemicals they used to try to clean up the cove.  The townspeople, as well as the clean up crews, sued Exxon for damages, were awarded billions of dollars but, as only large corporations can do, they fought and appealed the decision for 20 years until it was finally reduced by the US Supreme Court to $507 million.  That $507 million distributed between all of the townspeople didn't even begin to cover their legal costs, let alone their loss of livelihood.  This film is touching, aggravating, and heart-breaking, but most of all it tells the true story of how the world is horrified by such a disaster only to forget about it once the media has moved on.  One resident of Cordova, Dr. Riki Ott, a fisher woman and marine biologist who is the film's heart and mind, lectures all over the world about the dangers of oil spills and has also written two books documenting their struggle with Exxon, Sound Truths and Corporate Myth$ and Not One Drop. Her clear voice detailing what happened and what continues to happen to the ecosystem in Prince William Sound is mind-blowing.  This is also a film about corporate America at its worst.  Exxon was contacted repeatedly to present their side of this continuing story but the filmmakers received no response.

If you get a chance to view this film, I cannot stress enough how important it is especially in light of the BP disaster that has now become old news also.  What is happening in the Gulf now?  What kind of lasting effects are there?  Is BP doing all that it can to adequately clean up and help the environment recover from such a devastating spill?  Corporations need to be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else.

For more information on the Black Wave go to:

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