The Big Fix: Cannes 2011 Review

Cannes Film Festival
A gloomy but perhaps realistic depiction of the forces of corruption and deceit that produce environmental catastrophes.

Filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell present history, conspiracy theories and a real-life health problem in their investigation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath.

CANNES -- The Big Fix from Josh Tickell (Fuel) and his wife and co-director Rebecca Tickell is the latest doom-and-gloom environmental documentary although this one takes alarming leaps from a single environmental catastrophe into fantastic realms of worldwide conspiracies, corporate malfeasance and political corruption. Which is not to say the filmmakers got anything wrong. Anyone with an open mind and some attention paid to events of the past few years will have little trouble seeing that the fix was in when the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico last year -- and this fix will still be in when the next catastrophe happens.

The problems with The Big Fix though are threefold: One, judging by the poor attendance of journalists and film critics at the film’s Palais press screening, few people other than fellow activists are seeing to these doom-and-gloom movies anymore. Two, little here is really new as much of the Tickells’ findings have been reported elsewhere, even by some of those they interview, especially Jeff Goodell, who spent months in the Gulf for his well-researched Rolling Stone article.

Finally, the Tickells describe a “fix” is so vast and powerful, the film can only throws its hands up over any realistic solution other than to install solar panels to heat up your toxic household water.

Then again, the Tickells may have all this right.

The movie begins with history lessons about BP, Iranian oil, Louisiana politics and the search for new sources of fossil fuel outside the Middle East. Following the explosion and subsequent disastrous leak, the filmmakers head for Louisiana to learn more.

BP, which was unable to stop the flow of crude oil for months, infamously was able to stop much of the flow of information about what the British-based company was doing to solve the leak. So first the Tickells bring along a couple of celebrities, activist-actors Peter Fonda and Amy Smart, in the hope that this will help loosen tongues. Local fishermen and other locales do chat a bit but none of the crew can penetrate those areas and beaches now suddenly “off-limits.”

So covert activities, with appropriate musical accompaniment, are employed which result in scary footage of dead fish and thoroughly misguided nighttime spraying of the disbursement chemical Corexit, which makes the health risks for fish and humans all the worse. Or at least that’s the opinion of the scientists consulted.

This leads to lessons in science and medicine, then further lessons in corporate financing of political campaigns, lobbyists, deregulation and the U.S. banking system. You begin to wonder if you can get university credits for seeing this film.

The upshot of all these lessons is a bleak picture of a world virtually colonized by Big Oil, which in turn is funded by Wall Street with the acquiescence of both the White House and Congress. O.K., that’s a lot to swallow and perhaps the movie crams in too many subjects, heroes and villains for one 112-minute movie.

Interestingly, all the talking heads, on-screen charts and flow of information aren’t as poignant or damning as the serious health issues Rebecca Tickell now suffers as a result of her exposure to Gulf air and water for only a limited time. This brings home the real consequences of BP’s inadequate, tardy and wrong-headed response to the tragedy.

The film ends on a Howard Beale note where it admonishes us all to open up our windows and scream out “We Have Had It!” Judging from the fiercely entrenched and pitiless power structure the movie portrays, somehow those words don’t sound like they would have much effect.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Out of Competition (Special Screening)
Sales: UTA
Production companies: Green Planet Prods./Reboot Films/Synergy Prods.
Directors: Josh Tickell
Screenwriter: Johnny O’Hara
Producer/co-director: Rebecca Harrell Tickell
Executive producers: Tim Robbins, Maggie Wachsberger, Peter Fonda
Director of photography: Marc Levy
Music: Ryan Demaree
Editors: Sean P. Keenan, Tina Imahara
No rating, 112 minutes