On July 4, 2009, tiny monsters popped out of the Chesapeake Bay near Washington D.C. and horrifically killed innocent people, leaving them battered, bloodied and infected. True story? No, but new movie The Bay pretends it is. The flick is filmed in found footage style à la The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Hidden inside is an environmental message: Our waters are toxic.
Oscar-winner Barry Levinson created the film, leading us to ask:
A found footage movie seems a strange choice for an Oscar winner. What made you want to do it?
Well, I would not have thought to do a movie like this. It was an evolution. I was approached by the people in Maryland to do a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay because it’s 40 per cent dead. I looked into it, I found out that PBS had done a documentary that was terrific, but ultimately nobody really responded or cared or thought that we ought to do something about this largest estuary in the U.S. that’s 40 per cent dead, filled with a toxic soup. Then a couple of weeks later I thought, maybe what you need to do is if you took all the facts and you pulled it into a story … and you create characters, maybe the facts will become more frightening to us.
Is that the movie equivalent of sneaking medication into someone’s dessert?
The information becomes vital to the storytelling. It becomes one and the same; it’s connective that way. And so, I think it adds to the experience because it adds the credibility.
What are some of the conditions in the movie that come from those facts?
Well, take the drinking water. We know the filtration systems in the United States are basically D-rated. That’s what they say, it met the standards. It’s substandard, but it met the standards. We know our water quality is a D-minus. And we go, “Well that’s good enough.”
What about the monsters in the film?
They’re really isopods and they do exist. They’re not in the Chesapeake Bay, but they’re in the Atlantic. In the scene where the oceanographer holds one up to the camera and says, “This is sea lice,” that’s not a CGI shot. That’s a fish that has sea lice on it in South Carolina where we were filming. We’ve got a lot of stuff that’s got a reality base to it that makes it even scarier.
Are there any efforts now to correct the situation in the Chesapeake Bay?
They say there are efforts to fix it. You could correct the damage if you put a real effort forward. Now they’re doing some work, so I won’t say they’re not doing anything. But they’re not doing what you have to do. You’ve got to be in an emergency mode. And I mean, it’s all doable.
You can correct it. It’s just, “Do you have the will to want to do it or not?”