RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE (Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer & Quinn Costello, 2017)
323 Sixth Ave. at Third St.
Tuesday, October 23, 7:30
And you thought the rat problem in New York City was bad. “I wanna tell you all a tale that’s crazier than hell,” Louisiana native and Treme star Wendell Pierce says at the beginning of Rodents of Unusual Size, Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer, and Quinn Costello’s eye-opening documentary about the nutria, the twenty-pound web-footed, orange-toothed South American creature that was introduced to Louisiana in the 1930s to boost the fur trade and has wreaked havoc ever since. The rodents multiply like tribbles and destroy so much vegetation that the resulting erosion affects storm surge protection, leading the government to encourage the mass murder of the beast by offering a five-dollar bounty for each tail. The filmmakers visit Delacroix and the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, talking to such nutria hunters as Larry Aucoin, Darrell Aucoin, Liz LeCompte, and Trey Hover, who is killing the swamp rat to help pay for his college education. LeCompte is doing it to protect the environment. “If the land’s gone, then me and my family don’t have a future,” she says, explaining that “Cajun women, they not afraid to get their hands dirty.” Nutria control specialist Michael Beran, who patrols the canal banks and uncovers nutria-built subterranean labyrinths that can also endanger bridges, notes that the nutria is an “invasive species [that] has to be deleted.” Nutria tail assessor John Siemion gets right to the point: “It offers these guys money when there is none,” he says. “This is their income for the year.”
Fashion designer Cree McCree, the founder of Righteous Fur, believes that using nutria pelts for vests, hats, leg warmers, ties, and other clothing should be supported by organizations such as PETA. “I like to think of Righteous Fur as a giant recycling project,” she says. Some restaurants are serving nutria on their menu. James Beard Award-winning chef Susan Spicer of Bayona Restaurant insists, “If you approach it with an open mind, you’ll find it doesn’t have a really bad, swampy taste.” Rebirth Brass Band cofounder and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins barbecues nutria. “It’s definitely like tasting Louisiana. Delicious!” he declares. The filmmakers also speak with Edmond Mouton of the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, fur wholesaler Tab Pitre (who skins a few nutria on camera), Bimbo Phillips of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, Chateau Estates resident Paul Klein (who feeds the buggers), Rick Atkinson of the Audubon Zoo, Chateau Golf & Country Club maintenance manager Brooks Mosley, Louisiana Fur & Wildlife Festival organizer David LaPierre, Fur Queen Beauty Pageant winner Julian Devillier, and Eric Dement, who has a pet nutria. But it’s fisherman and philosopher Thomas Gonzales who the filmmakers keep coming back to. “Never kill something unless you make something with it,” the old man says, later adding, “I’m born to die, so I’m gonna get all the gusto out of this little body that I got.” In Delacroix, a sign reads, “End of the World.” It seems like not even Captain Kirk could cure Louisiana’s nutria dilemma. Rodents of Unusual Size, which also has a fab soundtrack by the Lost Bayou Ramblers, is screening October 23 at 7:30 at IFC, concluding the fall “Stranger Than Fiction” series, and will be followed by a Q&A with codirector and cinematographer Springer.