A Word With: "The Big Fix" Director Josh Tickell - Secrecy Week


Filmmaker Rebecca Tickell in June 2010, holding a portion of soil from off the shores of Grand Isle, LA tainted by oil spilled from the infamous Deepwater Horizon accident earlier that year. BTR speaks with husband and director Josh Tickell about The Big Fix, the couple’s latest documentary on the subject. All photos courtesy of Josh and Rebecca Tickell.

From a tiny discovery buried in the sand to the Cannes International Film Festival, Josh Tickell has made his statement known – the imprint of oil doesn’t merely wash away with the tides. Following the tragic spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Tickell along with his wife, Rebecca, set out to prove to the world the lasting impression of our gluttony towards natural resources, money, and the corporate powers governing over us. Their breakthrough film, The Big Fix, debuted last year at Cannes as a rough cut – the only documentary selected by the festival as an Official Selection Premiere – and will be released worldwide in April of this year to honor Earth Day. In the meantime, Tickell has moved onward and upward, recently completing his follow-up film on oil sustainability, entitled Freedom.

He now discusses his work, motivations, and personal eco-strategies with BTR in our latest edition of “A Word With”.

BreakThru Radio: You grew up around the oil business in Louisiana. What was it about being there that sparked your interest in exploring these matters further?

Josh Tickell: My family had land leases in the oil business for the better part of a hundred years. There are 150 facilities from Louisiana to Houston, so the culture of the area is directly tied to oil, and that’s a lot of what we talked about in The Big Fix. People understood there was this oil spill, but they had no context to it, no idea of the culture and deep-seeded, integrated lifestyle of people living inside the industry. Oil is the main economic driver in Southern Louisiana; it largely fuels an entire state, so it’s extremely important. That’s a huge piece of equation because people don’t understand how anyone can be so devoted to that industry.

BTR: How would you describe the culture?

JT: Well, it’s Creole culture – Spanish, French, Indian, and African mixed together. That’s a culture largely based around living on the land, or in this case, living in the water because that’s the place to get food. The substance then that people live on comes from the same place as oil… Outsiders will refer to people as ‘Cajun,’ but they’ll laugh and say, ‘I’m not Cajun… I don’t come from French stock; I’m not a French person. I come from the land.’ In one sense, it’s a very simple people in that very strong connection, and on the other hand, it’s very complicated because they live a delicate balance between being extremely environmentally responsible and also supporting an industry that feeds them.

The Tickells with Big Fix executive producer, Tim Robbins.

BTR: What led you to believe there may be a conspiracy surrounding the oil industry and the spill?

JT: I wouldn’t necessary call it a ‘conspiracy’ because that assumes there was a highly intelligible operation behind it. It was actually my wife’s idea to go down and talk to people in the area about the potential to go green. I am more cynical and more resigned having grown up there. My opinion was more that this was to be expected, but a lot of things changed when we went down there. The reality was different than what the media was playing.

BTR: How so?

JT: One day, there was a hurricane warning, so the media had left the beaches. We went down and dug under the sand, and lo and behold, found a thick layer of tar. No one said the reason it had all gone away was because it was covered up. They said it was burned or contained. The story didn’t match the reality and it still doesn’t. In one instance, we uncovered, to some degree, a cover up or conspiracy; they’d invested the time and energy to do a large-scale snow job. People still think oil went away, but anyone with half a brain who watches the media narrative play out has some sort of suspicion that something went on we didn’t hear about, even if they don’t know what it is.

BTR: What’s it like down there now? Would I still find tar if I walked on the beach?

JT: You’d still find tar under the sand. You’d find people in a state of fury based on the lack of federal and state attention to what’s going on. You’d find people in denial, a contradictory mix. Generally, when you follow the money, you’ll see people who are pro-oil and believe it’s cleaned up. The whole point of the film, though, is not to say these are bad people or an isolated incident, or that BP is a bad company, though it does have a poor track record. It’s to say the system is fixed, it’s rigged. It will fail over and over again. This year will be one of the biggest for deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s history… What we’ve learned is that if we can bake the federal agencies into a state of unanimous inefficacy where they can’t do anything, you can do anything you want as a company.

BTR: Who is the root of all evil in this crisis?

JT: That’s the big question movie asks: Who is responsible? Our final analysis is that we’re all responsible. Every time we put a gas nozzle into our vehicle, it’s a vote for the oil company to go back and do what they’re doing. You can’t be against them and drive a gas car, or ride on planes and travel to protests into buses fueled by gas. It’s totally hypocritical and that’s why oil companies don’t move. If people wanted to change, they would use alternative fuel and deal with the inconveniences involved. The height of hypocrisy is a society that stops at the accident, and won’t take something that’s better even if it has problems.

BTR: Do you drive a car?

JT: We drive a biodiesel-powered Volkswagen and ethanol-powered Prius.

BTR: Do you fly in planes?

JT: I do.

BTR: Do you consider yourself a hypocrite?

JT: I’m a realist. I have no misconception that some great dilithium crystal is going to solve our problems. I firmly believe the only shift is to embrace alternative energies with all their imperfections, and to do it on a massive scale.

BTR: What will it take to get the public on board and make substantial change?

JT: What we saw in the Gulf is going to look like drop in the bucket. 99 percent of people are locked into a system, and that’s where the bulk of the consumption is happening. We’re facing the hard reality of what it’s going to take to shift a 200 billion gallon a year habit. Conservation will do its part, but let’s say we do a 25 percent reduction, you’re still going to be dealing with 150 billion gallons a year. In reality, the only real change is going to be on a massive scale, demand and supply driven. People have to demand it, companies have to supply, but they won’t supply until they see demand.

For more about The Big Fix, check out the documentary’s official website and their official trailer available on YouTube: