In 2010, Jon Bowermaster was wrapping up the editing of his latest documentary — this time about the relationship between Louisiana residents and the water that surrounds them.
It was going to be a light-hearted film full of south Louisiana personalities, but then April 20 arrived and the nation watched as the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire and sank, taking with it 11 lives and leading to the largest domestic oil spill in U.S. history.
Bowermaster knew that he had to return to Louisiana to continue filming, and what was initially released as the documentary “SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories” took a darker turn as it was updated.
During the subsequent filming, he said, he had heard many people say that the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana’s coast would never be the same, and that’s why he returned to Louisiana again to look at the aftermath of the spill.
The film that ultimately grew out of his latest effort, “After the Spill,” premieres Friday at the Manship Theatre with live music from Louisiana guitarist Sonny Landreth, who provides the movie’s soundtrack.
Following the hourlong documentary, there will be a question-and-answer session with the director and several participants in the film. They include John Barry, a former New Orleans area levee board member who helped initiate a lawsuit against oil and gas companies for wetland destruction, and Gen. Russell Honoré (retired) who took over the response to Hurricane Katrina and has since taken on environmental issues with his Green Army.
Although initially focused on Louisiana after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it became clear while making the documentary that there was a much deeper problem facing the state, Bowermaster said.
“There have been a lot of films about Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon accident that focused on these individual events,” Bowermaster said.
This film, he said, takes a step back to look how these single events play into the larger picture of the future of Louisiana. What he found was the specific incidents of the oil spill in 2010 or the hurricanes of 2005, including Katrina and Rita, were blips on an underlying crisis facing the state — coastal land loss.
“Despite the title, it’s not really a spill film,” Bowermaster said. “What’s impacting the coast is less about individual accidents and more about the long-term degradation,” Bowermaster said.
Louisiana has lost 1,880 square miles of land since the 1930s through sea level rise, erosion, sinking of land, oil and gas canal dredging and a lack of new sediment from the Mississippi River because of levees built after the 1927 flood.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, southeast Louisiana lost more than 200 square miles in just the short span of the storm. Additional land loss was attributed to the 2010 oil spill, although that amount hasn’t been publicly quantified.
The challenges of addressing land loss and other issues facing the coast are daunting, said Marylee Orr, executive director for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who has worked with Bowermaster for years.
However, the film also highlights efforts to address these problems, she noted, and it presents many opportunities for the state to help as the rest of the world also confronts things like a rise in sea level.
“It could have been a dark film. It’s a very serious topic, but I think at the end you feel hopeful,” Orr said.
“What we see in Louisiana I see now in other places around the world,” Bowermaster said.
He said other parts of the world are now dealing with issues Louisiana has confronted for decades, including a rise in sea level, the ocean coming closer to where people live and work, the boom in oil and gas production and more.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.