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Film Review- Black Wave - The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez

Original post made by Carol Brouillet, Barron Park, on Jan 26, 2011

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster, this documentary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill takes on new meaning. The legal battle between the town of Cordova, Alaska, and the world's most powerful oil company, Exxon-Mobil, has dragged out for nearly twenty years. There have been many casualties along the way, including suicides, divorces, and bankruptcies. In addition to the human toll, entire species have been decimated, and the oil can still be found on the beaches. The sheer beauty of Alaska, which has suffered so much from this gigantic oil spill, coupled with the heartfelt stories of the survivors, is portrayed in the film and is painful for an empathetic person to watch.

I first viewed Black Wave with Summer Burkes on her laptop computer, interspersed with multiple interruptions and exclamations from this courageous woman who has been sprayed with Corexit in the Gulf, who tried to deploy hair booms to save some of the local ecology, and who has listened to the same rhetoric from BP that Exxon used when they spoke to the people in Cordova. The pattern, the lies, and the cover-up were obvious in both cases, and the deeper questions about both incidents have never been resolved.

The gorgeous cinematography, stirring music, and power of the narrative ease the heartache that comes from visually witnessing such an enormous, man-made, preventable disaster. Although the film has won many awards internationally, it has not received the attention that it deserves here in the United States, perhaps because it was made in Canada. It is especially deserving of attention now in the United States when people are getting sick and dying while the government and the mainstream media desperately try to convince the public that the seafood and beaches in the Gulf of Mexico are safe.

The heroine of Black Wave¯ is Riki Ott, Ph.D., "fisherma'am"¯ and author, who has a degree in marine toxicology with a specialty in oil pollution. The film itself is like the tip of an iceberg; there are many more stories and layers beneath the surface. Fortunately, Dr. Riki Ott has provided access to many of these stories in her three books – Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal, and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008), and Alaska's Copper River Delta, books she has written as part of her process of healing herself, her community, her country and the world.

In her latest book, Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal, and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, she focuses on the trauma that the entire community went through and the lessons they learned, many of which were inspired by outsiders who entered the community in order to study and understand it, including filmmakers. She describes how the townspeople responded on the seventeenth anniversary of the spill to the documentary The Day the Water Died, which triggered an outpouring of personal stories, tears and songs and the realization that their story was far from over. Endless Fallout, produced by the same filmmakers who made Black Wave, explored the lingering human cost of three of the worst technological disasters of the last century: Union Carbide's chemical accident in Bhopal, India, the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Riki saw that while the disasters looked different from the outside, they looked very similar from the inside of the communities that were most affected.

I first learned about the existence of the film Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez¯ by visiting Dr. Ott's extensive website. Drawing upon her experience with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Dr. Ott has spent many months in the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to educate the public and the medical profession about the toxic effects of crude oil and dispersants and how they can be recognized and measured. Listening to her online interviews soon persuaded me to overcome my reluctance and to examine the depth, magnitude, cause and consequences of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Images, words, and music can either evoke or mask emotions and realities that may be close and personal, or distant, but are staggeringly important to our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Natural disasters, although they can be horrifically devastating, often bring people together to mend and heal themselves and whatever was destroyed. In man-made disasters, distrust and uncertainty often divide people and rip them apart. There are so many lessons to be learned from the film Black Wave¯ and from Dr. Riki Ott that are essential if we are to understand and mitigate the damage (rather than compound it), from the more recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and to rein in corporations and industries that place profit before life.

Corporations have the money and power to repeat bold lies over and over, endlessly, until they are believed by the majority of the people. It is only the courage and persistence of truth tellers like Riki Ott, as well as the civic engagement and participation of other well-intentioned people, which can create the power to separate corporations from the state and to reassert human control over corporate tyranny.

(Oilpocalypse Now, a benefit for the Gulf Coast Fund, Ultimate Civics, and the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana, will include the East Bay premiere of Black Wave and feature guest speaker, Dr. Riki Ott, Thursday, February 10, 2011, at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue, Oakland, 7 pm. Dr. Riki Ott will also be a guest on the Community Currency show on Progressive Radio Network, Thursday, January 27, 2011, from 2 pm to 3 pm, all shows are archived online.)

Comments (13)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by thanks
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:40 am

Thanks for the heads up. Looking forward to seeing this.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2011 at 6:59 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Alaska profited from the oil, so they also should have shared the loss.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:45 am

Ms. Brouillet said "Corporations have the money and power to repeat bold lies over and over, endlessly, until they are believed by the majority of the people."

Our government has even more power to do this. I trust the voices of many different corporations much more than I do of one , huge, monopolistic, self-aggrandizing government whose only function is to keep itself growing at our expense. I can choose which corporations to support with my money, I can't choose how much my government takes from me.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by loss
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:13 am

Are the people in Alaska who profited from oil the same people that "shared the loss" from the Exxon Valdez?


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:49 am

"I trust the voices of many different corporations much more than I do of one , huge, monopolistic, self-aggrandizing government..."

I am glad to see the lessons of the Bush administration being taken to heart.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Brouillet
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm

It is the merger of Corporate power with government power that is the problem. In the case of BP, for example, they have the power to influence the FDA to changing the standards for acceptable level of chemicals in the seafood to ridiculously high levels, and get the President and others to say "It's safe- eat Gulf shrimp!" Whereas, in fact, the seafood is laced with chemicals and not safe, especially if eaten in large quantities. What is more important to you- your health or corporate profits? Check out the Louisiana Environmental Action Network's websites to read the reports done by independent scientists on seafood that contradict the rosy "Eat it!" messages that the corporate media and the government are issuing.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

In the end, corporate profits are more of value than health. Smoke in the air means food on the table. Poor health is still better than starvation.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm

"In the end, corporate profits are more of value than health."

Gotta hand it to ya, Walter. Sometimes you do tell it like it actually is.

But pray elucidate: why is it better to die of asthma, emphysema, or their cousins so agribusiness can pay its excutives those bloated bonuses than to starve to death so agribusiness can pay its executives those bloated bonuses?


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2011 at 3:45 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It's in the numbers, Paul. Do we eliminate a hundred jobs to ameliorate one emphysema case? Sometimes it is easier for the emphysema sufferer to move or just to air condition.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 28, 2011 at 5:29 am

Walter: The problem is you make too much sense. We are losing oil drilling companies and leases here in the USA to other countries like Venezuela, Egypt, China...but hey!! At least we are losing our jobs, our tax base, and becoming even more dependent on enemies to allow us to buy oil from them, all for the cotton candy dream of "cleaning up" our environment!! ( Already the cleanest..in the world..buy hey, why let such facts bother anyone?) Good results, right?

Ms. Brouillet, you are correct. We agree, perhaps for a first time. The marriage of ever growing conglomerates with government power is an unholy alliance. We have seen this before throughout history, and we are seeing it in mega form right now. We are marrying unprofitable corporations like GE and "clean energy" companies like Tesla to our tax dollar power, letting our "government" choose winners who will collapse the moment our tax dollars stop supporting them...driving those without tax support into bankruptcy. Who can compete against an all powerful government?

So, bye bye energy and job and tax base oil companies, hello the equivalent of the great Carter programs for oil from shale.

I can't wait for the Carter (squared) ideology to leave us alone again. I am old enough to know that it will return, but maybe it won't start growing for another 20 years again. In the meantime, the rest of us can gird our loins in preparation for the next wave of economic destruction.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm

"It's in the numbers, Paul. Do we eliminate a hundred jobs to ameliorate one emphysema case? Sometimes it is easier for the emphysema sufferer to move or just to air condition."

As the wisdom goes, figures don't lie, but liars do figure.

One hundered is a nice round number, easy to pull out of ... , um, wherever. So could it be 101, or 99, or 87? Maybe 55? How about zero? Or a minus number - counting the jobs created to clean up pollution, and to invent and implement more efficient less polluting alternatives, and to install cleaner energy?

Pollute or die is the sloppy solution of a lazy mind, which has no place in the modern world. I have faith in the power of innovation which, judging by several posts on this thread, is faltering badly in America.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So, Paul, do we ban peanuts, or just identify them to make avoidance easier?
Take Hangar One for an example. We are faced with a 28 million dollar cleanup bill, and yet there is no risk to anyone from the runoff from that building. Should we spend the 28 mil anyway, or, just perhaps, find a better use for the money? All the money spent for remediation is money not available for something else.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Perspective
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 29, 2011 at 7:04 am

Paul said: "Pollute or die is the sloppy solution of a lazy mind, which has no place in the modern world. I have faith in the power of innovation which, judging by several posts on this thread, is faltering badly in America."

Paul: Answer the question Walter asked: Do we ban peanuts in the USA because someone dies occasionally from peanut allergies? Do we spend 28 million on a clean up, when there is no risk? What could that 28 million do?

Keep walking that thought forward, and you will start to lose the "lazy mind" you fear has overtaken us.

I can't remember either the author or the name of the book, but it was a mind blowing book about the various costs and benefits of how we could spend our money to do the most good. Written by a ..swede perhaps?...and included such cost benefit analyses as saving millions of lives through the use of DDT to lower malaria-carrying mosquito rates in Africa, a little bit of money for bringing clean water to various parts of the world, etc. Does anyone know the book I am talking about? It has been about 8 years, perhaps..maybe 5-6.

If so, please post it here. It would be a good book for anyone interested in strengthening a lazy mind, for anyone interested in how to think about the "best practices" of resource management to help the most people. And, I would like to re-read it. Unfortunately, I got it from the library so don't have it on my shelves or in my Amazon bought list!



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