Exactly five years ago today, an offshore oil-drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 people and leading to the biggest oil spill in human history – 76 million gallons over 87 days. Although claiming responsibility almost immediately (how could they not) the oil giant BP are still depriving claimants out of compensation money and the industry has still not learned the lessons from such a devastating disaster.
The Great Invisible begins with the individual stories of the tragic loss of life on the day itself and how it affected the families of the deceased. Told through moving interviews and ominous home videos, the families and survivors explain how the conditions on the rigs were exhausting and that cost-cutting measures resulted in instant income bonuses, regardless of safety. Then the documentary leads into how the environmental catastrophe affected the livelihood of thousands of fishing towns along the South Coast of Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, and how whole communities have been devastated due to the polluting of the sea life and the mismanaged response from the Oil giants as well as the federal governments.
The characters in the film range from sleazy corporate suits like Kenneth Feinberg – the advisor put in charge of distributing BP’s ‘oil spill compensation funds – who speak on behalf of big business and have little sympathy for actual people, to Roosevelt Harris – a volunteer who gives out food to local oyster shuckers and fisherman. One of the hardest hit areas acquired the nickname Hard Luck City complete with hand-painted signs such as ‘nothing left to steal, stay out’ on trailers and wooden shacks…
This is then contrasted with broadcast footage from the House of Representatives Energy Committee where five CEOs and Presidents from the oil companies have the audacity to claim that they knew nothing about the potential safety risks before the explosion and present comically shallow emergency response literature to incredulous politicians. I really wish more people would watch these kinds of committee hearings as they always give such a damming insight into the cold, cartoonish capitalists that run big businesses and perhaps the public would become more critical of their incompetence and greed…
The irony of the film is that all of the characters onscreen are social conservatives that want nothing more than to keep the status quo but for vastly different reasons: the fisherman want to keep on fishing, and the businessmen want to keep on drilling. At one point a retired oil worker amusingly claims at one point that oil is a gift from God and that the concept of ‘fossil fuels’ is just a theory. But what is missing is a third voice perhaps suggesting that renewable energy could benefit both groups of people (eventually)
The Great Invisible is from the same team that produced An Inconvenient Truth – a film that genuinely seemed to resonate on its release – yet has arrived at a time of supposed increased apathy towards environmental issues. A quick scan of the major news outlets of the USA show more coverage to the 16th anniversary of Columbine (itself an enormous tragedy, of course) than to the biggest man-made environmental disaster in human history.
If only Netflix insisted that every 10th piece of content watched was an awareness-raising documentary… then perhaps audiences would renege on their climate fatigue and pressure would grow on corrupt businesses to stop literally ruining the world.