two filmmakers find a healing pathway after tragedy
Each day Rebecca Harrell Tickell takes about 200 supplements, herbal remedies and nutrapuncture pills. Then there’s her daily yoga practice, the vigorous hikes, the meditations and a no sugar, no caffeine, vegan lifestyle. She’s not a purist. She’s on a path toward healing.
Josh Tickell spends about an hour each day in meditation. His now two decade long yoga practice has intensified, as has his running and physical training. Fish, once a staple, is all but absent from his diet. Sleep, which used to be a luxury, is a daily practice.
It’s been over a year since we were both filming on the beaches of Louisiana where we were repeatedly sprayed with a deadly poison – a neurotoxin so powerful that just smelling it can leave you in total disorientation. The chemical is an “oil dispersant” developed by Exxon and approved for use by our Environmental Protection Agency. It’s called Corexit and it contains another deadly chemical called 2-Butoxyethanol. Its Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) warns that this chemical damages unborn fetuses and reproductive organs. And somewhere between the official report of 2 million gallons and expert estimates of 40 million gallons of the stuff have been sprayed, dumped and injected into the Gulf of Mexico to make the oil disappear from view. Much of it finding its way onto people and wildlife.
We met six years ago while volunteering for an educational organization. Our attraction came from being energetic, dedicated people committed to world change. Since then, we worked on the eco documentary FUEL, we’ve done tours to promote alternative energy, worked with congress on algae fuel, consulted with fortune 500 companies, held rallys, participated in brainstorming sessions with world leaders and spoken at colleges across the country.
But when the BP oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22 (Earth Day), 2010, all of the advocacy work we had done stopped. For the better part of two years, we traveled around Louisiana and the Gulf states with our cameraman, Marc Levy. Constantly running out of money, attempting to convince donors that we were uncovering a “big” story, witnessing the acute and ongoing environmental destruction to Josh’s home state (half of his family is French-Cajun), trying to stave off the sharp decline of our health – all made for a trying and often painful journey.
Only a handful of close friends and family believed in what was becoming a feature documentary film called “The Big Fix.” Our core group saw beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars of BP ads aimed to convince America the oil spill had been cleaned up, the fish were safe to eat and the beaches were back in business. Even President Obama, in a telling moment of deference to the oil giant, swam in a Florida bay (credited as the Gulf of Mexico) and told reporters “the beaches are safe.”
Not surprisingly, our cameras captured a very different world. The beaches of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi had literally been made to look white by importing sand from Florida and pouring it on top of the oily sand. Hordes of cleanup workers – often from poor areas or from prisons – and often working by the cloak of darkness – comb the beaches with machines designed to remove the tar balls that cover them. Twenty miles inland, marshes are covered in thick, sticky crude oil. The oil that vanished from TV screens continues to wash ashore. Thousands of people along the Gulf Coast are showing signs of chemical poisoning. Their symptoms include bleeding from the ears, blood in the urine, open sores that do not heal, swelling of limbs and face, extreme photosensativity, shaking and extreme loss of body mass. These were things we first filmed two years ago, and for the most part, they continue.
One of the saddest things we encountered were the dolphin deaths. Dead baby dolphins began to wash ashore about a year after the initial oil spill (the spill had occurred during the first trimester of their mothers’ pregnancies). To date, approximately 600 dolphins have washed ashore along the Gulf Coast – most of them dead. Fishermen continue to report that dolphins will rub themselves on fishing nets. When inspected, the dolphins are white – presumably from rubbing off their skin. Local residents have reported mother dolphins brining their babies up to docks on their bottlenoses. The dead dolphins are confiscated by the federal government. Thus, there is little known – except that the dolphins continue to wash ashore.
After this harrowing experience, and the unusual challenges of making an independent film, we managed to complete “The Big Fix” and launch it at the Festival De Cannes where it received standing ovations. The film has had a profound effect in its premieres. After the movie premiered in New York City, BP sent numerous ships out to the former site of the Deepwater Horizon and then admitted that the oil, is indeed, still leaking (they use the word “seep” now). After its premiere in Washington D.C., a major environmental group filed suit against the EPA for its approval of the use of Corexit in the Gulf of Mexico. And after 40 nonprofit organizations privately showed the movie on Earth Day, a BP employee who had erased text messages containing early (and much higher than reported) estimates of the oil flow, was indicted. The Department of Justice has forewarned that BP’s executives are not off the hook either.
For the two of us, our experience gave us a new perspective. We live in a heightened state of awareness of just how lucky we are. Living in Southern California inside a community of health-conscious people, we feel we are in heaven compared to the time we spent in the Gulf. We treat each day as a gift – knowing how fast and how irreparably circumstances can change. On a practical level, we don’t eat anything from the Gulf of Mexico (or “Mexico” as much seafood is now labeled). We also paid $300 for a “Freedom Kit” so we can fill up on alcohol fuel in our Prius – an investment that will pay for itself within a year of fuel savings and one that allowed us to stop using the substance that seems to be doing a lot of damage to our planet.
While making “The Big Fix” we experienced profound darkness. And perhaps that darkness exists in all of us. It’s a reflection of old ways of treating each other and old ways of treating the planet.
They say the night is often coldest right before the break of dawn. We believe that humanity is entering a new time of earth-conscious innovation and of deep reverence and understanding of our delicate relationship with nature. What we destroy in the world, we destroy in ourselves. And conversely, what we create and nurture in the world, we generate in our spirits and minds. The situation in the Gulf of Mexico needs love – it needs human ingenuity, volunteers, legal action, time and energy – and it may need that for the rest of our lives. And unfortunately, it is not an isolated example. Similar environmental “hot spots” dot our country and our planet. But like the sores of the victims of the oil spill itself, these hot spots can be healed. Our actions, how we use our money and what we focus on in our lives have a profound effect on the planet’s carrying capacity.
Josh and Rebecca Tickell are co-directors of “The Big Fix” which will release on DVD on June 19th. More information on their movie is available at thebigfix.com