May 23, 2012

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By Mera McGrew

Recently recognized as a finalist at the International Wildlife Film Festival, the documentary “My Village, My Lobster” tells the harrowing story of an industry and a community in crisis.

“I have always been interested in social issues…it was literally over a lobster dinner in Nicaragua that I was first introduced to this particular issue,” said director, cinematographer and editor Joshua Wolff. That was in 2007. Wolff felt it was a story that needed to be shared with the world.

Filmed over the course of four years, the documentary highlights indigenous Miskito lobster divers along Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. The film gives a voice to those who risk their lives diving for the region’s most lucrative resource, the Caribbean spiny lobster — referred to locally as red gold. The film shows consumers the human cost associated with the simple act of ordering a lobster at their favorite seafood restaurant. 

Along Nicaragua’s Miskito coast, commercial lobster diving is the largest industry today. Every year as many as 5,000 Nicaraguans, primarily indigenous Miskito Indians, risk decompression illness, paralysis and death in order to make a living diving for lobsters.

We caught up with producer Brad Allgood to talk about the film recently.

What was the most shocking thing you learned making this film?

The most shocking thing I learned when making this film was the lack of enforcement and regulation of the commercial diving industry in Nicaragua and the blatant disregard by boat owners for the safety and health of their divers. Living and working conditions aboard commercial diving vessels are atrocious, and the rates of paralysis and death along the Miskito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua due to decompression sickness (a diving-related condition commonly known as the bends) are of epidemic proportions. It’s a human tragedy unlike any other I’ve ever witnessed. There are few other contemporary industries that have experienced similar rates of injury and death amongst its workers like commercial lobster diving. Recent data from one diver treatment facility in Honduras, for example, reports 137 injuries from decompression sickness in 2011 alone – a 15% increase from 2010 – and eight deaths in January and February of 2012. The sad truth is that these injuries and deaths are preventable, but there is no government or international pressure to reform the industry.

How has making this film changed you?

Since making this film, I’m more aware of the economic value chains and sources of seafood and other products on our supermarket shelves, as well as the importance of our oceans to the survival of our species. By killing the oceans, we’re killing ourselves. And I believe “My Village, My Lobster” demonstrates that link quite obviously. We know more about our world than ever before, and we have more tools at our disposal to make wise decisions about how to live more sustainably — but we’re not using them effectively. We have to change the way we live and interact with our world, and that change starts with ourselves.

Why did you decide to use video to tell this story?

For the past two decades, print articles have been published every few years in Nicaraguan, Honduran and major media outlets about the commercial lobster diving industry in Central America, and despite recent attention from various high-profile media outlets, including CurrentTV, Rock Center with Brian Williams, BBC4, and the New York Times, nothing has changed the situation on the ground. As someone who works in media, I don’t find this surprising — we are so bombarded with negative stories that we get fatigued and tend to ignore stories that aren’t immediately relevant to our everyday lives.

However, we live in a rapidly-evolving media landscape where broadcast doesn’t play the pivotal role that it used to — as independent filmmakers, we now have a variety of media tools at our disposal that allow us to engage new and strategic audiences, sustain conversations and dialogue through social media, and reach communities and populations that were previously excluded from public dialogue. For us, the film is simply the nucleus around which we’re building an entire media outreach strategy, using Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, blogs, websites and Google Earth, amongst others, and positioning the film as the foundation for future content. And most importantly, as a neutral party not directly linked to the industry (or linked to funding dedicated to reforming the industry) and deriving no benefit from it, we are able to navigate freely amongst the various stakeholders, organizations and institutions working on the issue, and play the role of ‘connector,’ making the critical connections and contacts between previously non-communicating entities. We have the luxury to maintain a certain distance and objectivity that others don’t, and we don’t have to compromise our goals and objectives. It’s quite simple, actually. We would like to see positive change — a more sustainable lobster fishery and more respect for human life — and the two are inextricably linked.

(Above is an unedited script of the email exchange between Mera McGrew at Mission Blue and Brad Allgood) For more information about the film, visit their website or check them out on Facebook

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