Joshua Reviews Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls [Slamdance Review]


While it may have been a handful of years in our collective rearview mirror as a nation, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is not only still having its repercussions felt to this day, but from the very moment it began, destroyed towns and villages that relied so heavily on the food, and finances, that would come from the Gulf of Mexico.

However, as mentioned above, this event and disaster is very much in our nation’s rearview mirror, as are the victims and the villages forever destroyed. That is, until hopefully now.

Debuting at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival is a new documentary looking at a very select group of people struggling to cope with this disaster, and it’s as deeply moving a portrait of life following a manmade disaster as you’re bound to ever witness. Entitled Vanishing Pearls, the film looks at a group of oystermen, The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana, as they attempt to get their voice heard by BP, governmental bodies and a world that is all too quick to push these events under the collective rug.

Aesthetically, the film is relatively straight forward. An entrancing blend of newly shot footage and source newscasts, the film is an intimate portrait of a group of people from a town just verging on 300 citizens, that doesn’t do much to turn up the gloss cinematically. However, it truly doesn’t have to. At the center of the film narratively is Byron Encalade, a fisherman from what was once a lively fishing community in Pointe a la Hache.

Encalade’s tale is one of many that span more than just this small town. As proven throughout the film, there are more than a handful of men, women and families just like him, his wife and his lovely family. With a loss of their entire way of life, their livelihood, these fishermen take as many legal channels as they can to earn some sort of response from BP, in the hopes of easing years and years worth of pain due to the company’s failure. However, when various roadblocks pop up (particularly one moment involving them not getting allowed access to a BP shareholders meeting), the film becomes as much a look at this way of life dying due to entirely existential happenings as it does about a beautifully engrossing modern day David vs. Goliath tale, pitting these fisherman against one of the biggest corporations in the world in one of the biggest markets in the world.

Clocking in at right around 90 minutes, director Nailah Jefferson’s new documentary Vanishing Pearls is yet another bit of proof that if one is looking for pure human drama, one should begin paying major attention to the world of documentary cinema. Simple human drama told simply and humanely, this gorgeous documentary is a haunting and unforgettable look at one of this generation’s greatest tragedies. However, what’s more tragic than all of this? The film’s greatest triumph is its unwavering portrayal of just how heartless the company behind the disaster truly was and still very much is, and how strong and how unbreakable the spirit of these men and women truly is and will always be.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.