The Great Invisible
2014, PG-13, 92 min. Directed by Margaret Brown.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 12, 2014
A documentary with an agenda, The Great Invisible solemnly recounts the catastrophic consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion off the Louisiana coast in the spring of 2010. On April 20 of that year, a fireball explosion ignited the offshore rig, killing 11 workers. Efforts to extinguish the infernal blaze failed and the structure subsequently collapsed underwater, the broken well at the sea floor gushing almost two-and-a-half million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily. By the time British Petroleum, which leased and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, capped the well almost three months later, over 176 million gallons of spewing oil had polluted the waters along the Gulf Coast, making the disaster the worst offshore spill in the history of the United States. The discharge decimated the area’s fragile ecosystem and devastated the local shrimping, fishing, and oyster industries, leaving countless families without a dependable income almost overnight. According to the film (which won the Documentary Grand Jury Award at SXSW 2014), even when British Petroleum announced the creation of a $20 billion disaster victim fund to compensate persons directly affected by the oil spill, the promise of such economic relief never materialized for the many who either did not trust the multinational corporation’s motives or could not provide the requisite documentation to qualify for reparations.
To the filmmakers’ credit, the points of view in The Great Invisible are comprehensive and varied, though it’s clear who they view as the good guys and bad guys here. (Under the circumstances, Alabama-born director Brown has a right to take things personally, given the adverse consequences suffered by her home state.) There’s Kenneth Feinberg, the no-nonsense administrator of the compensation fund who almost bullies affected residents to seek restitution from the BP account for their own good. There’s Doug Brown, the Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic who miraculously survived the blast but now experiences severe psychological difficulties in its aftermath. There are the independent oilmen who eat steaks and smoke cigars like proverbial fat cats, pontificating about how most Americans believe cheap fuel is their birthright. (As difficult as it may be to listen to this conversation, these guys speak the hard truth for the most part.) And finally – and thankfully – there’s Roosevelt Harris, the retiree who volunteers for a church food pantry in Bayou La Batre, Ala., the state’s seafood capital hit particularly hard by the oil spill. A common man with a charitable heart, he provides a perspective we all should embrace during the worst of times. Regardless of your reaction to the social and political call for action that ends the somewhat bleak The Great Invisible, it’s likely that this man’s generous and humble words are something upon which we call can agree.
See “Revealing The Great Invisible” for an interview with the director. Full disclosure: Chronicle Editor Louis Black is one of the film's producers.