In the days following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy/BP Oil Spill, it goes without saying that all of us in the Gulf South (especially Louisiana) felt intense sadness and concern for our environment and well-being. After all, being so close to the water means our economy and way of life is entirely dependent on the integrity of the rivers, lakes, and ocean that we live nearby. Those early weeks, when the oil kept spewing and the pundits kept getting things wrong, were some trying moments.
Then, I saw a short film on Youtube. Made by an Xavier University Professor of Theology. Spoofing Godzilla and the spill as it was.
Geauxjira is 10 minutes of pure “taking the piss” out of a situation most depressing. It involves the spawning of a giant Crawfish (as a direct result of the spill) and the people tasked with taking it down. Hollywood, eat your hearts out: We just outdid your best writers.
I chatted with the director of the short, Professor Michael Homan, about his inspirations, and what he hopes will be the legacy of the film itself.
Embedded below is the movie in full. Enjoy and read on!:
Bill Arceneaux: Tell me, what do you think of the American made Godzilla movies?
Michael Homan: The low bar was set firmly with the 1998 Godzilla film with Matthew Broderick, and his discovery of hundreds of Godzilla eggs in Madison Square Garden. So the more recent American Godzilla movies are at least better than that. If they wanted to throw in the Superdome I’d support that concept. Have Drew Brees throw the eggs as tight spirals miles away to explode in the swamps. As a Godzilla fan, I try to see each of these films right when they arrive in theaters. I went to the Broad Theater when Godzilla: King of the Monsters was released. The movie was awful, but I got to see Mothra and I liked what they did with Mothra’s twin fairies. As a person with average intelligence, I know that Godzilla vs. Kong is going to be painful, but I’ll see it, and I’ll root for Godzilla in all of the battles. I do like when the modern directors tip their hat to scenes in the classic movies.
BA: I took Geauxjira as quite the therapeutic way of dealing with Deepwater Horizon’s tragedy and the massive spill that followed. What was the feedback like to the film after you uploaded it?
MH: I got responses from very varied places all over the planet. Some were Godzilla fanatics who liked how our movie recreated the scenes faithfully. Others were more local and they were upset like me with BP, Halliburton, and all of the other corporate entities involved with this avoidable tragedy. I even got some positive feedback from a relative of one of the workers who lost his life in the explosion. In contrast, some liked the tech aspects, and a few younger people wanted to know how to film a giant monster walking with regular-sized people running in terror, because that is a useful skill. I guess if people were critical and thought that it was an unfair attack on these oil entities, then they kept those feelings to themselves.
BA: The giant crawfish reminded me of a sequence from Teenagers from Outer Space, forced perspective and all. What influences or references informed the making of Geauxjira?
MH: I have not seen Teenagers from Outer Space, but now I’ll have to make sure that I watch it. When we made Geauxjira, we started by watching and studying repeatedly the classic Godzilla movie from 1954 by Ishirô Honda. We then made a storyboard, and then the costume. We thought about how we could take the classic scenes and put them at Lake Pontchartrain instead of Tokyo Bay, and incorporate our frustrations with post-Katrina New Orleans as a substitute for a Japan devastated from World War II and the atom bombs. Editing the film to fit with the amazing score by Akira Ifukube also was a big factor.
BA: History has a funny way of appreciating art, especially film. How would you like Geauxjira to be remembered today and in another decade from now?
MH: Just to have anyone think of Geauxjira today or a decade from now is a nice thought. We didn’t make the movie for the future. We were frustrated from all of the nonsense we dealt with after the flooding of New Orleans in 2005, and then in the summer of 2010 when we’d watch daily on TV oil gushing into the gulf, and the awful smell of the dispersant that would burn your nostrils. We started to realize how many lives were being impacted by the hubris of the oil industry. We felt driven to do something about it. As a surprise to me, all along the way people were cooperative. I would imagine that 99.9% of the time if I told someone to put on a giant crawfish suit, paint their skin red for a black and white movie, and then submerge themselves into the toxic waters of Lake Pontchartrain, they’d say “Pass.” But that summer everyone was on board to express our disappointment in what was happening to the earth and what was happening to the greater New Orleans area.
BA: In light of all the documentaries that came and went about the BP disaster, your YouTube short exists as this fun and funny response to a horrible situation, that only a New Orleanian could deliver. Do you agree that NOLA reacts to these events differently than other communities, given all that has happened to us?
MH: I’m not from New Orleans, but I’ve lived here 20 years and plan on dying here. Most definitely New Orleans responds differently to tragedies. Of course, the first thing to come to mind is the idea of a joyous funeral, but there are so many other things. They might be sports-related like the Boycott Bowl, or a Jazz Funeral for Democracy when people are tired of our government fighting overseas wars. New Orleans is not a place for everyone, but for me, I’m proud to live in a place that is vibrant, creative, and unique.
BA: If you could take one element from the making of Geauxjira and use it to teach your Xavier University students a lesson, what would it be?
MH: My students these days are millennials, and as such, it would be rare to find one who would be able to commit to something that is 10 minutes long. If that sounds mean spirited it’s because I’m teaching summer school and I just finished grading some awful thesis papers. I used to have students take famous scenes from the biblical prophets and then set them in modern New Orleans. That’s something I probably should revisit.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews