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Roshini Thinakaran: Film Expedition to the Bayou

December 15, 2010

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By **Roshini Thinakaran**

Photos by Anthony Moradi

roshiniheadshot.jpgIn October 2010, I took a road trip from Washington, DC to a small town nestled deep in Louisiana’s bayou country. I was heading to Buras in the Plaquemines Parish, roughly sixty miles from where the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded in April 20, 2010, which is to date the worst human-induced environmental disaster to hit the United States of America.

And that was my reason for being there. I wanted to document how this small town was coping.

tar ball.jpgFrom Blog to Screen

Highway-11 leads right into the heart of Buras. There’s no welcome sign, instead an American flag about thirty feet high stands at the entrance along with the new water tower bearing the town’s name. An eerie feeling crept up on me as we drove through the main road. It was a virtual ghost town.

Five years ago Hurricane Katrina almost wiped Buras off the map, taking out its water tower, public library, high school, and only grocery store. It seemed every other house was boarded or left in ruins, and for me reminiscent of post-conflict countries I had been in.

Roshini holding camera.pngI first heard about Buras from Rocky Kistner, an investigative reporter working with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) who has been based there since April and blogging about the communities effected by the oil disaster. He’s become a trusted member of the community for two reasons—he didn’t leave with the mainstream media blitz and he lives in his office. Fishermen from all over including the Plaquemines Parish, Alabama and Mississippi, want Rocky to tell their stories.

Before my trip, Rocky warned that making plans is not how things are done in the bayou, which was a bit unsettling, but after five months he’s become an expert or a fixer of sorts. The first request he gets is “I want to see where the oil is.” An out of work fisherman named Christian Delano was peddling an oil dissolvent that could save the Gulf, or so he claimed, and he wanted Rocky to write about it. Though he had his doubts, Rocky never says no.

tar ball.jpgIt was a rough ride out to the explosion site south of Plaquemines Parish and surprisingly we had company—lots of it. The Gulf was full of non-local contractors hired by BP to skim oil remains. It is a point of contention for the communities that know these waters better than anyone.

We didn’t have to travel far from the explosion site to find marsh grass drenched in oil. Christian then demonstrated the dissolvent, which he said broke down the oil particles.

I wasn’t sold but it made me think about how rich the Gulf was in natural resources and how everyone wanted their piece of the pie.

Copyright 2010 Roshini Thinakaran

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Roshini Thinakaran is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, TED Global Fellow, and founder of Women at the Forefront. She is a documentarian recognized for her work examining the effects of war on women. Roshini’ss latest project focuses on a small town deep in the Louisiana bayou facing extinction. Zak Wenning, a video producer for National Geographic Society is filming with her. Zak has over ten years of experience in production and working with various cultural groups. Kellianne Jones is a fourth-year film student at Syracuse University. For more on Roshini’s work please visit her website.

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