Stakeholders & Filmmakers Target Gulf Coast Issues at Conference

Starting today, the State of the Coast Conference gathers oil & gas engineers, scientists, researchers, and filmmakers together for the annual three day examination of the state of the Gulf coast, primarily Louisiana's rapidly eroding wetlands. A selection of films will be screening concurrently alongside conference presentations with titles like "Morphodynamic Assessment of Sediment Diversions" and "Stable Isotope and Nutrient Analysis to Determine Sediment Sources in the Río Cruces Estuary."

While there are also several interesting presentations and discussions devoted to ethnography and citizen response to wetland crises, the films and their panel discussions will underline the emotional need for action and decisions in the region.

Water Like Stone, which we wrote a feature article about last fall before its New Orleans Film Festival premiere, is a sentimental but serious look at the isolated community of Leeville, Louisiana. Long a successful fishing village, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, and the re-routing of a state highway have all led to its declining population. In the film, the few citizens that remain talk honestly about themselves, their past, and their limited hope for the future while Zack Godshall's camera captures the beauty of the wetlands. 

Can't Stop the Water, another documentary that had its premiere last fall, focuses on the community of Isle de Jean Charles inhabited by the descendants of blended Native American tribes, Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, who split off from the Trail of Tears and headed south to Louisiana. Led by Chief Albert Naquin, the community struggles for survival and government aid. The forty minute documentary, filmed over three years, began as an examination of the culture, but the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster provided extra impetus to spotlight this vulnerable stretch of land. Read our review.

My Louisiana Love centers around Monique Verdin, a young Houma Indian woman. The film is both personal and political as it follows her efforts to raise awareness post-Katrina and post-BP disaster about being of a generation that is "inheriting a dying Delta." The deeply personal story is shaded by the fact that much of the initial footage was shot by Verdin's partner and boyfriend who committed suicide post-Katrina. You can stream this documentary here.

Beasts of the Southern Wild takes elements of the situations captured in these documentary films and translates them into a dark fantasy set in the fictional "Bathtub" village outside of the levee system. Young Hushpuppy and her father Wink wrestle over their own relationship while the saltwater storm surge from a hurricane brings desolation to their environment. Beasts turns the volume on the emotion up to 11, but the film manages to capture the enigmatic us-vs.-the-suits spirit of coastal people in a rusty, gerry-rigged aesthetic without being condescending or indulgent.

Back in October we dedicated an issue to the idea that artists had as much at stake in building interest in land loss and other coastal problems as scientists and community organizers. Check out that issue here.

Read more about the State of the Coast Conference.