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Review: 'Vanishing Pearls' shows fallout after Gulf disasters

Review: 'Vanishing Pearls' shows fallout after Gulf disasters
Elton Encalade and Villere Demolle in "Vanishing Pearls." (AFFRM)

The decimation of the Gulf Coast oyster industry following the one-two punches of Hurricane Katrina and the Deep Horizon oil spill gets a much-deserved close-up in the enlightening, if sometimes sluggish, documentary "Vanishing Pearls."

Shot from 2010 to 2013, the film focuses on the travails of the small fishing village of Pointe à la Hache, La. Writer-producer-director Nailah Jefferson tracks the fallout from those two disasters, particularly the 200-million-gallon BP oil spill. The institutional racism that has plagued the community's largely African American oystermen also gets discussed.

At the center of Jefferson's recounting is Byron Encalade, a Pointe à la Hache resident and president of the Louisiana Oysterman's Assn. His family fishery dried up as a result of the oil spill and, the film posits, the toxic impact of BP's clean-up efforts on the Gulf's seafood supply. (Oysters, shrimp, crab and much more were affected.)

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Encalade, seen traveling to Washington, D.C., and London on behalf of the local fishing trade, makes for a strong, heartfelt spokesman, as do his family members and the other oystermen interviewed here.

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Government-appointed lawyer Kenneth Feinberg is brought in to administer BP's $20-billion disaster victim compensation fund. But interviews with the canny attorney hardly clarify what becomes an elusive, complex and deficient process for claims and clean-up. Still, Feinberg's apparent double-talk speaks volumes.

Chats with politicos, lawyers, environmentalists and journalists round out this film. Though dizzyingly informative and diffuse at times, it's a well-shot portrait that's at its best when it eschews the facts for the folks.

"Vanishing Pearls." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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