By Andrew Kornblatt
Opening this week, a film called “The Runner,” starring Nicolas Cage and Mad Men’s Bryan Batt, is causing both marine biologists and politicians to take note. This film depicts a tragic hero Congressman, played by Mr. Cage, crusading for the rights of fishermen in his district in early days following BP’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
Nicolas Cage’s character comes across as a mixture of the earnest Mr. Smith when he went to Washington, the southern sexual magnetism of Bill Clinton, and the tragic scandal-entangled fall of Anthony Weiner. What marks this film as especially interesting from an ocean advocacy perspective is that it marks the first time BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill will be highlighted as the setting in a movie that isn’t a documentary.
“The Runner”’s setting develops naturally, according to Austin Stark, who makes his writing and directing debut with the film. “Originally, I decided to set the film in Louisiana due to its rich culture and scandal-plagued political history. But when I went down there do research for the project a year after the Macondo well had been capped, I didn’t expect to see the continued suffering and impact that I witnessed,” said Stark, “It seemed that the mainstream media only showed an image of a region that was recovering. I got to meet fishermen and other business owners in the area, and it became very clear to me that those communities hadn’t recovered and that it was still very much a real issue. It occurred to me that making the spill prominent in our story would feel very organic, while also drawing attention to a tragedy that was being swept under the rug.”
Mr. Stark wanted to be as precise as possible in his portrayal of the spill-from how it happened as well as its continuing effects. Stark had Nicolas Cage in mind for the role of the main character as he was writing the script. Cage owns property in New Orleans and spends much of his time there. He apparently jumped at the chance to portray the lead in a film that prominently features the Deepwater tragedy.
Stark also took special care to cast locals and actors personally attached to the tragedy like Peter Fonda, who directed a documentary on the spill, and Bryan Batt, who spent most of his formative years in New Orleans, recently relocating to the Big Easy from the Big Apple.
“When I read the script, I was taken with how well Austin captured the political drama of the characters and told a basic human story, all while highlighting the BP oil spill,” said Mr. Batt. “So many businesses and livelihoods have suffered due to the spill; fishermen, shrimpers, the tourism, service, and restaurant industries were all hit tremendously by this tragedy, and the devastating impact on wildlife. I hope this film raises the consciousness to where people will say,’we can’t let this happen again.’”
The release of “The Runner” is especially poignant in light of recent news stories regarding the BP settlement cases, and new focus on the suffering some communities still face in the aftermath of the spill.
News of the film and its sensitive subject matter also drew the attention of the scientific community who have been studying the Deepwater tragedy and its effect on local ecosystems.
“This film will again focus attention on the range of issues faced by Gulf residents as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout,” said Dr. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.
Joye and her team were the first to discover a largely unrecognized and, unevaluated aspect of the spill – that huge underwater oil and gas plumes had been released into the ocean at terrifying rates. Her team has continued to study long-term effects of the spill on chemistry of Gulf marine life as oil invades the foodweb and local ecosystem. “The issues Gulf residents face resulting from the incident have largely fallen off the radar, Dr. Joye continued, “but they deserve continued attention and these people deserve our continued support.”
These days our attention shifts from tragic event to tragic event. In spite of the fact that there are people still experiencing fallout from those disasters on a daily basis, we forget and tragedies fade from memory. There is a good chance that with a strong box office showing of this film, BP’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and its victims, will return to the minds of Americans everywhere. BP was unavailable for comment. It is in their best interest this tragedy remain a faded memory.
Andrew Kornblatt is the founder and host of the Online Ocean Symposium; an organization that is increasing and expanding attention to the oceans through the use of social media, outreach and streaming Google+ Hangouts on Air for conversations in ocean advocacy and science.