By Karen Lunde and Billy Thomas
Imagine a 20-pound rodent that looks like a weird cross between a beaver and a rat. It has enormous orange teeth and a skinny tail. It lives in swampy, tidal areas and dines mostly on aquatic plants. It procreates prolifically. You’ve got yourself a nutria, and it’s the subject of the documentary film Rodents of Unusual Size, which makes its Olympia premiere at the Capitol Theater Sept. 30. After the Olympia screening will be a Q&A session with Costello and ecologist Tara Chestnut.
Hurricanes and oils spills have assaulted the Louisiana coastline for decades. Rodents of Unusual Size (a title taken from fictional critters in the 1987 film The Princess Bride) documents the struggle of Thomas Gonzales and the community of Delacroix Island, who are engaged in a war to ward off hordes of nutria destroying the coastline — the very thing that protects their community from hurricanes.
OLY ARTS talked with Chris Metzler who, along with Jeff Springer and Evergreen alum Quinn Costello, directed the film. “Many years ago,” Metzler said, “when we were on tour with a previous film, we became friends with a theater programmer who was from a generations-old Cajun family in the southeast part of Louisiana. She introduced me to the subject matter of nutria — a rodent of unusual size. Once we got down to Louisiana, we got taken in by the beauty of the area, the sheer number of nutria that are destroying it, and the unbelievable dedication and joy of the people tackling the issue. We see the story of this most-unlikely invasive species as an entry point to a unique part of the world that is rapidly changing before our eyes. We wanted to document the place at this moment in time, and the nutria served as a good through line.”
Dr. Tara Chestnut is an applied ecologist whose work is broadly based. She investigates factors that influence such things as species distributions, ecological responses to environmental stressors — like contaminants, or climate change — and endangered species recovery. Chestnut prides herself on her ability to communicate science to general audiences to ensure a scientifically literate and informed public.
Part of the locals’ population control involves a bounty on nutria: $5 for each tail brought in by hunters. They’ve also taken to dining on the large beasts. Metzler and crew partook of this unusual fare. “Nutria meat is tastier than you might expect,” said Metzler, “but of course it helps that there are so many good chefs around Louisiana. We filmmakers gave it a try, and let’s just say our cooking efforts were not as successful. It wound up tasting like dirt. However, whether we had it barbecued, stir-fried or in a jambalaya, it was always tasty and kind of like a pork tenderloin.”
Rodents of Unusual Size
7:30 Sunday, Sept. 30
206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia