Yesterday afternoon, Margaret Brown's new film, The Great Invisible, premiered at the State Theatre at SXSW in Austin. It is the story of the BP well blowout in the Gulf in 2010, and follows several main characters whose lives were forever changed by tragedy. I was privileged to be an advisor to Margaret, and played a small part in the film to give the viewer insight into the culture and technical details of the oil and gas industry.
The story unfolds with home video shot by Doug Brown, the Deepwater Horizon's chief mechanic of his work area in the engine control room of the rig, long before the blowout. Knowing what has happened to that rig since, and to those who worked on it, the video was eery in it's depiction of everyday life offshore, and personalized the experience like no verbal recounting could accomplish. This personalization continued for the entire film, following the lives of Doug, as well as Horizon roustabout Stephen Stone, a fellow survivor, and Keith Jones, father to Gordon Jones, a mud engineer who lost his life that night. Lives of people onshore were also followed, including Roosevelt Harris, a volunteer at the Henley Church of Christ in Bayou LaBatre Alabama, and Latham Smith, a tugboat captain out of South Lousiana. These characters' lives are woven together, along with many others in Alabama, Louisiana, and Houston, both in and out of the industry, to tell the side of the story seldom told in this tragedy; that certainly the environment in the Gulf was seriously damaged and continues to suffer damage, but, also that thousands of people were deeply and tragically touched and continue to suffer today.
Margaret also tackled the very complicated story of the oil and gas industry itself, not afraid to approach those of us in the industry to get that side of the story. The majors, of course, maintained the code of silence, declining to participate in the film in any way. Some of us in the industry, who are independent, did. These varying perspectives give this story a richness rarely achieved, especially when it is so complicated with so many characters.
The most touching scenes of the film are those with the survivors and their families. Their struggles are similar, but from different maladies. Doug has struggled physically from his injuries, having now endured 9 surgeries to date. A once robust and outgoing character, this experience has forever changed him, though you can see an inner strength within him and his family members that have made them able to not only endure, but flourish in new ways. Stephen and his wife have struggled with the psychological affects of this tragedy and you can see them in the film actually emerging from their long struggle.
The most eloquent spokesman for the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, though, has been Keith Jones. An attorney by training, Keith is very well spoken and has carried his message to Washington and New Orleans many times, giving voice to the dead, including his son, and speaking for all who suffered from this tragedy. He continues that role even today, attending legal proceedings in New Orleans and advocating for all the families of those who were injured or lost their lives.
In the last 24 hours, I have been able to spend time with the survivors and their families, as well as Margaret and the production staff for the film. Each of their stories is unique, but tied together by the common thread of the tragedy that occurred at 9:50 pm, April 20, 2010. All of our lives have been changed forever from this experience. If only this catastrophe had changed the conversation about energy in the US and how we use it; so far, it has not. My fervent hope is that The Great Invisible can help institute that change.
Participant Media, founded by Jeff Skoll, eBay's first president, presented this film. It's digital outreach, TakePart, is working to translate its message to action about energy, energy policy, and environment through public and private screenings, and finding ways to take action on this, and other critical issues affecting us today.