The Great Invisible is a somewhat different case. It's not a bad movie; it's just not as good as DamNation or Beginning With the End. An attempt, as Brown said, to chronicle "the human cost" of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the documentary starts promising with some tremendously effective footage of oil gushing underwater and balls of fire pluming into the air. Pretty soon we are shadowing a food pantry volunteer, listening to people complain about how they haven't received relief fund money, and sitting in on Congressional hearings.
I was disappointed with the film for two reasons. In a panel discussion and again at the Q&A, Brown insisted the film was an attempt to get Americans to see how interconnected we all were with big oil. I am not sure I buy the premise that if we drink out of a plastic cup or drive to a screening that we have "never" thought about how our energy consumption drives the need for cheap oil. Boycotting BP may not be the answer—or even feasible—but the film's rush to show how everyone is complicit comes across like a weak moral equivalence argument, and it is fatalistic to boot. We are told in the film that we had a moment in time where we could have done something. But what that something was is never hinted at—and we missed our window of opportunity anyway.
When asked why she did not include information in the film about health problems to residents caused by dispersants, Brown said that such effects, like the leak's environmental impact, might not be seen immediately, were hard to measure, and couldn't be separated from "a billion other things to with poverty."
That quote points to my second concern about the film. It's not really possible to examine any disaster in isolation, is it? Questions about energy consumption lead to questions about oversight, trade, revenue, taxes, tort reform, science literacy, education, you name it. The film keeps pumping out new angles like the well keeps pumping out oil, with containment in the artistic realm proving equally elusive.
It's worth repeating: The Great Invisible is not a bad film. It is an effective synthesis of a big story. It should be a particularly helpful starting point for the uninitiated, a group that grows as any event, however traumatic, recedes into the past. But Deepwater Horizon is not distant enough in the past for me to be fully satisfied with summary.
Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of1More Film Blog.