'Dirty Energy' shows residents’ side in BP disaster

In Detroit filmmaker Bryan D. Hopkins’ documentary, Dirty Energy, Louisiana residents affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster and its prodigious gusher of an oil leak get a chance to tell their stories.

Of course, none of these people has deep pockets of the kind that allow them to run national TV campaigns about how they’re going to make something that’s so terribly wrong right.

There’s no question about who Hopkins’ bad guys are in Dirty Energy: BP, the U.S. Coast Guard and federal authorities who allowed the epic dumping of toxic dispersants on the oil and in the Gulf of Mexico.

No one from any of the above entities appears on camera in new footage. Maybe they weren’t asked but it’s also possible they refused interview requests. They are represented somewhat by news clips and by BP’s former chief executive, Tony Hayward, in a clip of his infamous “we will make this right” TV spot.

The film also returns to clips of a previous oil disaster, 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Residents affected by that oil disaster were promised, “we will consider whatever it takes to make you whole.”

Perhaps it’s like shooting fish in barrel for Hopkins, but when the latter executives and bureaucrats do show up on screen they tend to appear weak, befuddled, disingenuous or some combination thereof.

The film’s Gulf Coast residents, on the other hand, appear natural, genuine and earnest on camera. They’re also much more entertaining than the powerfully moneyed forces cast as their foes.

Dirty Energy’s principal characters, so to speak, include Billy Nungesser, the parish president of Plaquemines Parish whose incessant TV appearances following the Deepwater Horizon explosion made him nearly as famous as, say, James Carville. But Nungesser is just the tip of Dirty Energy’s iceberg, one south Louisiana face and voice among an engaging ensemble.

George Barisich, a third-generation commercial fisherman who returned to the Gulf after graduating from college, steals the movie every time he’s on camera. “You gotta be slap goofy,” Barisich says. “The Coast Guard was there to cover BP’s butt!”

So, too, Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood, Inc. Both men express their dismay at the prospect that their way of life could be lost.

“I ain’t got much use for BP,” Blanchard says. “I think BP stands for bad people. … Allowing ex-congressmen to be lobbyists and work for people like BP, it’s not right.”

Hopkins paints a well-executed, David vs. Goliath pictures of Gulf Coast residents vs. BP the giant and government that they believe is bought and paid for. His portrait of a regional ecosystem under stress also includes the reality that many Gulf Coast residents are dependent upon the energy industry for their livelihoods.

As with other environmental films, such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, there’s no doubt about where Hopkins stands. He’s promoting protection of the natural world as well as fishermen who depend on Gulf Coast waters for their livelihood.