Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer
It sounds like the plot of a B-movie creature feature: Rodents the size of large raccoons, sporting webbed feet, large orange teeth, and enormous appetites invade a town, proceeding to destroy everything they encounter. However, this isn’t a Sharknado knock off, but an actual issue occurring in the state of Louisiana right now. The animal in question is called the nutria; a creature so unusual in appearance it might as well be from another world.
It is the nutria which is the main focus of Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello’s documentary that observes the resilience of both the nutria and the Louisianans who’ve endured their presence for years. Narrated by Wendell Pierce, accompanied by amusing and quite charming animation, and a buoyant Cajun score by The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Rodents of Unusual Size is a highly enjoyable, quirky and informative documentary which sheds light on the most unusual of cases of environmental disasters.
Rodents of Unusual Size explains the history of the nutria who were imported to Louisiana during the Depression. It was believed their fur would help provide an income for struggling citizens, and for a while, it did. Unfortunately, the animals escaped the fur farms and vanished into the bayou where they were able to breed uncontrollably. Their numbers swelled into the millions, creating a major problem since their voracious consumption of plant life and propensity for extensive burrowing severely damaged the coastal wetlands so crucial for preventing damage from hurricanes. The situation has only worsened due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which drove the nurtia further into the land, and the film depicts a community still recovering over 10 years after.
Eventually the government placed a bounty on the animal, paying $5 for every nutria tail turned in. The “Nutria Control Program” has been a huge savior for hunters and has kept them going through the tough economical times the state has suffered though. There’s one hunter that the filmmakers focus upon: Thomas Gonzalez, a native of Delacroix Island. Gonzalez is an interesting person with a unique perspective on life, determined to stay on living in the wetlands for as long as he can. He’s a down to Earth person and there’s something about his personality and honesty which resonates with the viewer; if only more of us could be like Thomas Gonzalez the world would be a happier place.
It isn’t men who are nutria hunters, as demonstrated by one intrepid female hunter who points out, “Cajun women, they not afraid to get their hands dirty.” The filmmakers also introduce an animal control agent who confesses he gets many calls to remove nutria from toilets, which they’ve managed to access through the sewer system. It’s hard to imagine being greeted by a giant rat-like creature poking its head out of your toilet and not being freaked out about it. There’s a toughness to all the people living along the gulf of Mexico, their lives are hard and unpredictable (like the weather), but they have a strong determined nature which is admirable.
Aside from visiting the wetlands the filmmakers also visit the city of New Orleans, where they meet a jazz musician/restaurateur called Kermit who talks about dealing with nutria growing up and what Katrina did to his district. He cooks and serves nutria to his customers at BBQs (apparently nutria tastes like rabbit) in an attempt to show that people can find a use to these pesky rodents. The audience is also introduced to a fashion designer who puts on a fashion show of clothes made from nutria fur. The documentary captures a decent proportion of the prominent African-American, white, and Native American population with subjects various ages and income levels. Louisiana is often overlooked and not always presented in a positive light, however the filmmakers tell the story of these people and their shared hardships without ever being insensitive or mocking them. It’s refreshing to have a documentary that flows on its own accord and doesn’t resort to added drama or controversy to promote its message.
Rodents Of Unusual Size presents the complicated history of these unusual rodents in an entertaining and informative way, the documentary puts forward the different viewpoints surrounding the nutria in an accessible manner and gives the community a platform so they can express their concerns. Slightly lacking in terms of its runtime, there is plenty of content to be enjoyed, and more importantly it highlights an issue with has been overlooked. Just make sure to check your toilet for any nutria next time you’re visiting New Orleans.