2014 SXSW Filmmaker Profile: Margaret Brown (Director – ‘The Great Invisible’)

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in American history.  The explosion still haunts the lives of those most intimately affected, though the story has long ago faded from the front page. At once a fascinating corporate thriller, a heartbreaking human drama and a peek inside the walls of the secretive oil industry, ‘The Great Invisible‘ is the first documentary feature to go beyond the media coverage to examine the crisis in depth through the eyes of oil executives, survivors and Gulf Coast residents who experienced it first-hand and then were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on.

Anticipating the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘The Great Invisible’ at 2014 SXSW Film, we profile the film’s Director Margaret Brown. ‘The Great Invisible‘ screens as part of the Documentary Competition on Sunday, March 9Monday, March 10 and Wednesday, March 12 in Austin, Texas.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘The Great Invisible’ at SXSW FilmHERE

What was the most difficult aspect of getting this documentary finished? Was there anything you anticipated as being difficult that ended up being less so?
I wanted to make a movie that covered a breaking news event as it unraveled over time – I was curious about what would happen when the cameras left, and the spill was no longer part of the nightly news cycle. I had no idea how much stamina that would take to follow something over such a long stretch. Since I filmed over a near 4 year period it was hard to always get the crew I needed when something new happened with my characters. So much of it ended up being DP Jeff Peixoto and myself driving through the Gulf Coast in my diesel wagon with all the equipment in the back. That part of it was kind of great.

rom l to r: Former Oil Trader Nick Florescu; Steve Wyatt Senior Director, Bahamas Oil Refinery Co.; Marty Power, Head of Business Development, Koch Oil; and Jim Oden, Head Trader, Apache Oil, appear in THE GREAT INVISIBLE Credit: Courtesy of Participant Media

rom l to r: Former Oil Trader Nick Florescu; Steve Wyatt Senior Director, Bahamas Oil Refinery Co.;
Marty Power, Head of Business Development, Koch Oil; and Jim Oden, Head Trader, Apache Oil, appear in THE GREAT INVISIBLE Credit: Courtesy of Participant Media

In developing the documentary, what did you find to be the most disconcerting aspect of the story?  Have you encountered any animosity from BP or other corporate interests as of yet?
Most of all I’m discouraged by the fact there has been no new safety legislation after this spill. After every other major spill, there has been new legislation as a result. And this is the biggest one to date.

I haven’t encountered any animosity from BP, I’ve just been ignored by them. And not just them – none of the major oil companies would speak to us. A few people who work for independent oil companies speak in the film, and I am grateful for their candor and participation.

In your opinion & in your experience producing this documentary, how can future disasters such as Deepwater Horizon be prevented?
There is no way to prevent the spills unless, unless we stop using oil. There is always great risk when you poke holes into the ground miles below the drill floor. Since this is not going to happen right away, we should focus on making offshore work safer through better regulation, and for us being conscious of what we are using and using less. And we need to let our elected officials know that this matters to us.

Food-bank volunteer Roosevelt Harris, r., delivers canned goods and other supplies to the residents of “Hard Luck City," including Wendy Rosendale and her two kids. Credit: Courtesy of Participant Media

Food-bank volunteer Roosevelt Harris, r., delivers canned goods and other supplies to the residents of “Hard Luck City,” including Wendy Rosendale and her two kids.
Credit: Courtesy of Participant Media

As a documentarian, what is your philosophy behind constructing a documentary narrative?  Do you draw influence from past documentaries? If so, can you give some examples?
I was very moved by the idea of a Southern landscape that might be on the verge of extinction. The South is a very particular place with it’s own rhythms of life, and I wanted the film to be clearly of the South. I wasn’t really drawing on any one film when I made it, but I watch films constantly of course, so I’m sure something seeped in but I couldn’t consciously tell you what. Maybe Harlan County USA.

Why is SXSW a relevant place to World Premiere ‘The Great Invisible’?
Texas is oil country so SXSW is the obvious place to premiere it. It means my oil world characters can come to the premiere and there will be a real conversation!

The_Great_Invisible_director_Margaret_Brown_About Margaret Brown
Margaret Brown’s Peabody Award-winning documentary feature, THE ORDER OF MYTHS, received the Truer Than Fiction Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards and was nominated for Best Documentary. Her first feature BE HERE TO LOVE ME: TOWNES VAN ZANDT was released theatrically worldwide. Brown is a recipient of the 2012 U.S. Artists fellowship.

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