Beasts of the Southern Wild: My Thoughts

Recently, Lunanola and I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild which, as most of you know, is a locally produced film with local actors. This is not so much a review of the film as just an assortment of my thoughts during the movie and in the days following. Indeed, Beasts is a grand over-the-top gothic fairy tale as told by a child called Hushpuppy whose imagination runs wild with the stories told to her by her alcoholic father, Wink. They live on a mythical swath of land off the Louisiana coast called The Bathtub by its inhabitants, a small community of people living on the edge of civilization.

Beasts reminds me of poetry in that the poet tells her story in such a personal way that the reader may never grasp its deepest meaning. The reader reads the poem, or story, through the lens of their own life experiences, often completely missing the poet’s intent. And that’s ok – it doesn’t negate the meaning of the work but enhances it by expanding and challenging the reader. The same can be said of this film and how I feel about it. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing the film because I didn’t want any other opinions influencing, even subconsciously, what I was going to see on the screen.

Having said that, I found myself wincing through much of the film; reacting to the squalor of Hushpuppy’s existence, the harshness and obvious mental illness of her father and the rampant alcoholism of most of The Bathtub residents we met. I didn’t see this isolated community largely as a celebration of a self-sustaining culture as much as the smaller stories of a few delusional souls, who’ve long since forgotten the real meaning of community, compassion and care, barely hanging on by their fingernails to a dysfunctional life. There was more about Beasts that bothered me than delighted or awed me and maybe that’s the film makers intention. In any case, it gives the viewer much to ponder.

I felt sad for Hushpuppy and the absence of a positive adult figure in her life except for an apparently cursory relationship with Little Jo (played by Pamela Harper), the resident Shaman, who taught the local kids about medicinal herbs, the flora and animal life in The Bathtub and the importance of being good stewards of the land and water. (Thank you for portraying her as a real three-dimensional healer instead of the stereotypical Voodoo queen!) She was the only positive, grounded character in the film and the only adult who attempted to prepare the kids for a real life instead of encouraging a life based on fantasy.

The interaction of people with each other, and the cause and effect of that interaction, has always fascinated me. I suppose that’s why I focused so much more on this aspect of the movie, while I was actually watching it, over the surrealism and symbolism the film was obviously pushing. In retrospect, though, the symbolism and subsequent cautionary tale is a vital part of what makes this movie unique. For instance, although I found the glacier avalanches jarring and somewhat disruptive I can acknowledge the part they played in the tale and beauty of the cinematography.

Generally, I thought the acting by all of the actors to be just about perfect. There’s a lot of Oscar buzz around this film and Quvenzhane’ Wallice, who plays Hushpuppy, and it appears she’s the darling of the Indie film set this year. There’s no disputing the child has a beautiful and expressive face but I always felt like someone was just out of view saying, “Now look fierce; now cry; now act crazy”. For me, Dwight Henry, who played the dad, was pretty incredible. I felt like he WAS the person he portrayed with all the nuances and warts of his character’s personality played completely naturally and believably. Children are so close and open to their emotions that I think most of them can act simply by following directions. But adults have to peel away layers of their own experiences and feelings to find the place where a character can come out. For this reason, I think Dwight was the better actor in this film and it’s a shame his achievement is being overshadowed when it should be equally acclaimed.

The cinematography was magical and pleasured us with torridly beautiful landscapes and seascapes. The manipulation of ordinary pigs into the hulking, mythical aurochs was nothing short of genius.

This movie had parts that I loved (Miss Jo with the kids) and parts that I hated (mamma shooting a gator while naked except for huge white diaper-like panties – WTF?). It made me laugh (the joyous fireworks scene) and cry (the death scene). In the end, I still can’t say if I “liked” it or not; I can only say it was a wild and interesting ride.

However, the most amazing aspect of Beasts is that it was made at all on the hand-to-mouth budget that produced it. The creativity of the film makers and the ingenuity required to make it is impressive and showcases the best this city has to offer artistically. That makes me proud to be a New Orleanian and, ultimately, happy I watched the film.

(And I’m still processing it.)

Pelicans and such

Southeast Louisiana’s winter weather is so fickle. One day it’s cold, damp and gray and the next is sunny with blue skies and mild temperatures. During Christmas break from work hubby and I decided to go looking for pelicans in their winter habitats around Slidell during a warm, sunny day. We didn’t have to go far to find our first group. There are about 5-10 pelicans staying about a mile from our home in Bayou Liberty.

These majestic birds gave us all the time in the world to photograph them, much to our delight. Here are a few shots.

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“The Big Fix” Premieres Friday Hosted by The New Orleans Film Festival

The Big Fix premieres this Friday as part of the New Orleans Film Festival. This documentary film details the massive government cover-up which has taken place in the wake of the BP oil spill.  There will be a press conference at 2 pm at the Contemporary Arts Center before the film is shown. The entire schedule for the festival can be found on their website.

Healing Center Grand Opening August 28

I wrote a bit about The Healing Center in a previous post. It sounds like a great concept but will reality match the vision? I’ve heard rumblings that some residents in the ‘hood aren’t too happy with some aspects of the center such as the apparent confusion as to the hours that Cafe Istanbul will keep and when liquor will be served. For a little inside info, read the comments on my previous post which includes a report  by Lord David of a recent neighborhood meeting in the center.

While you were sleeping

I have always been fascinated with sunrise. In my 20’s I would party till after the sun rose and be blinded by the light upon leaving the bar. I can remember watching sunrise from Grand Isle State Park and Cocoa Beach Florida. My daily commute puts me in line with pre-sunrise skies every morning, wishing I had my camera with me.

It’s amazing what goes on in the 30 or more minutes between predawn and sunrise.

Recently – well actually Memorial Day – we decided to climb out of our oh-so-comfortable cocoons at 5AM to travel the ten minutes to Goose Point in Lacombe, Louisiana.

For the locals it’s known as Lake Road, an extremely narrow piece of land that joins the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain with the lake.

Lake Road taken from the end

Lake Road is not paved and is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. I believe it is part of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge. On any given day you can find dozens of people parked along the road crabbing or fishing. In fact when we passed at a little after 5:30 in the morning there were several people already out there going after the early morning catch.

In the few minutes before the sun actually shows itself on the horizon the red wing blackbirds are out playing. This is one of my favorite “common” birds because of its call. There is something about the sound of a red wing blackbird that lets you know you’re far away from the sounds and activity of a normal day at work or in the city. They’re playful little things, too. I had fun trying to photograph them.

What I never knew until this day was how much energy it takes for this little bird to sing my favorite sound. Check out this guy.

Finally the event that we were waiting for began

The sun rises quickly and so many things are happening during this time. It’s difficult to decide what to shoot!

Still singing his little heart out!

I imagine there was once a camp or a pier here

These little plants caught the rays from the sun so well they appeared to be glowing.

I didn’t realize until after I looked at this picture that the plants have little purple flowers on them.

I love the texture of the marsh grass in this picture.

A marsh rose and wild morning glory

Crab boat going out on the lake to lay those crab traps to catch the best tasting crabs around!

This little guy scampered back into the bushes when we stopped to get his picture.

It was a wonderful experience and worth getting up early for. By the time we were finished it was already 7 AM and we headed out for breakfast and then more picture taking. A time well spent!

Thousands of Gulf Coast Residents Sickened by Effects of Oil Spill

The following post was originally published April 12 on local blog American Zombie.

More Cries for Help

Last Saturday I spent the day at Dr. Michael Robichaux’s farm in Raceland talking with well over 60 offshore workers, fisherman, and family members who are experiencing extreme health effects from the BP oil spill.  Many of the workers who came into direct contact with the oil and the dispersant, Corexit, are experiencing similar health problems ranging from mild sypmptoms to life threatening conditions.  It’s not only the men who were out on the Gulf during the spill that are sick, family members are experiencing health problems as well.  Even people who swam in the ocean are stricken.

While I can’t confirm this number, I am told by folks monitoring the issues that they estimate thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida are suffering.   Some are experiencing mild symptoms such as asthma, nausea, and headaches, while others are suffering extreme health issues such as internal bleeding, paralysis and even death….yes death.

The following video is a testimonial from Louisiana charter boat captain, Louis Bayhi.  It’s 6 minutes long and I implore you to watch the entire thing:

Capt. Louis Bayhi – Charter boat captain and BP clean up worker experiencing severe health problems from Blackbird Media on Vimeo.

Louis was one of over 40 fisherman I spoke with on Saturday who is gravely ill.  All of these fisherman confirmed to me that the Gulf is still full of oil and dispersant is continually being deployed….including areas which have been deemed safe for seafood harvesting.

There are more testimonials coming….please help spread this message…please help spread the truth.  The nightmare BP left us with is not over, in fact it may just be starting.  The MSM is not going to report what’s happening, but I implore you to dig deeper and don’t trust what you are being spoon-fed.

I fully expect to get attacked on the seafood issue but my response is fire away…I just spoke with over 40 guys who are out there every day and their concerns have now become mine.  I will take their word over anyone.

Check out the LEAN – Louisiana Environmental Action Network website for more information.

Bats & Mold & Apathy, Oh My!

I had a dream last night that bats had infested my house. They were hanging from the ceiling and flying around freaking out my pets while I was trying to call my husband (who was MIA) on the phone and I, of course, was having all sorts of strange, obnoxious trouble making the call as is the norm in an anxiety dream.
Then on the noon news I saw this:

Students protest bats inside McDonogh 35

(Click to see the video.)

Which all brought up thoughts of the three years I worked in an old building on the NOAH campus with mold growing all over the ceilings and walls, toilets that flushed up (that was special) and rats jumping out at unsuspecting co-workers. It amazed me that humans were expected to work under these conditions and, in fact, still do. Neither adults nor children should be subjected to such third world conditions and be expected to keep their mouths shut. The advantage these kids had in protesting their situation over the adults working in that building is that the kids don’t have to worry about retribution for speaking out. Fear of retribution will make one keep one’s mouth shut about substandard conditions when one has a family to support and bills to pay. The sad thing is, I suspect the same thing will be done at McDonogh 35 that was done at NOAH. Nothing.

Anyway, I think all this bat business and speaking out is due to the Leo full moon tonight urging us to say what needs to be said, according to Lynda Hill. (Thanks to Tammy Vitale for the link.)

“All in all, this full Moon seems to be pushing us to move, change, speak up and lay things on the line. A strong challenge is presented here between the old and the new on many levels. It’s a powerful time with all that’s going on in the world right now.”

Isn’t that the truth.


In The Name of Oil

This video is a production – a very good production – of Pablo Neruda’s poem Standard Oil Co. If the oilspill catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon last April (6 months ago today) affected you in any way, I think you’ll find this quite provocative. Even if you don’t like poetry.

Trust me.

Oil, Health, Environment & Bloggers

“In the past five months, Gulf Coast residents have been treated to a number of decisions with direct impact on their lives. They weren’t asked to give input at the time these decisions were made. They weren’t asked how they thought it might affect their future. The decisions occurred above their heads and most times, without their knowledge, but they are the ones now paying the price. This post is the first of three parts having to do with these decisions. Part one will address British Petroleum’s use of the dispersant, Corexit while two and three will be concerned with Bobby Jindal’s sand berms and the federal government’s response, including the amount of control ceded to British Petroleum. All three will address the issue of the courage necessary to change course in the Gulf, the importance of doing so and who will be affected. All three decisions to be looked at had to do with money and politics, and changing course now will affect the back accounts and political standing of the people in charge, but change must happen.”

So begins a fascinating series of posts by Disenfranchised Citizen – a series I highly recommend to everyone living on the Gulf Coast and everyone concerned about the effect of the BP oilspill on our environment and the health of those living along the coast. The first post, Changing Course in the Gulf: Bad Lessons in Money and Politics Pt. 1 – BP and Corexit, discusses the perils of the use of the oil dispersant Corexit and the relationship between BP and Nalco Group, it’s producers.

Dauphin Island, Al - Corexit containers

The second installment, Changing Course in the Gulf: Bad Lessons in Money and Politics Pt. 2 – Bobby Jindal, Sand Berms and the Shaw Group, outlines the folly of Gov Jindal’s sand berm project, his dismissal of any scientific evidence contrary to the project and questions the real motivations behind constructing the berms.
I am eagerly awaiting the final post and I urge you all to go now and read this very intriguing series.

American Zombie also has a good piece up today, Buried in the Outdoor Section, questioning why there isn’t more wide-spread reporting of an alleged thick layer of oil on the sea floor found by a group of scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf.

And, finally and heartbreakingly, we get the news of a huge fish kill reported in Plaquemines Parish “found in an area that has been impacted by the oil from the BP oil spill, the parish said.” (Via Library Chronicles)

Fish Kill in Plaquemines Parish

News of the oil catastrophe seems to be fading ever more quickly as the days pass but the effects on our environment and the health of our fellow citizens is only in the infancy stage, I fear. We cannot allow this atrocity to fade from our consiousness and, with bloggers like these three men , hopefully it won’t .