Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer
CC2K was lucky to get the opportunity to speak to Quinn Costello, the co-director on the excellent Rodents of Unusual Size. Quinn, along with fellow directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer traveled to many corners of the world in search of unique stories highlighting important environmental, scientific and cultural issues of contemporary society.
Rodents of Unusual Size is their latest project and it is an eye-opening experience which sheds light on a situation unknown to many outside of the bayou. We discussed the production of the documentary, what nutria actually tastes like, and the representation of the people of Louisiana and their welcoming nature.
CC2K: Hi Quinn, thank you for joining me today. I just want to say how much I enjoyed Rodents of Unusual Size. I found it to be a really well made and interesting documentary which touched on a subject I hadn’t been aware of before. I actually have a fear of rodents, so I had moments where I had to quickly look away so I found this to be challenging, but worth the watch.
Quinn Costello: Thank you for saying that about the movie. It’s great to hear that even those with fears about rodents are giving it a chance and coming out of the film feeling different. I know I have come out of the filming experience feeling different about rodents.
Would you mind giving us a quick introduction and your role within the documentary?
My background is in documentary editing, and this is the first film I have played a role in as director and producer. The films I have worked on before Rodents have been environmental, social justice oriented films regarding subject matters I am really passionate about. I met a friend in New Orleans who told me she had just been hired by the state to deal with these animals (the nutria) that were plaguing the swamp lands. I just couldn’t believe they existed. I spoke to Chris and Jeff, who had been introduced the nutria as well, and they had been toying with the idea of making a documentary too. So we decided to buy plane tickets and head on down to the swamp. On our first nutria hunt I was worried whether we were in over our heads, but then we just fell in love with the area and the people and just threw ourselves into making this film.
How did you come across the people you feature in the documentary?
We had a lot of people introduce us to other people, but I started out with a list given to me regarding nutria hunters. One guy told me he could introduce me to the “king of nutria hunters,” which was Thomas Gonzales. As soon as Thomas picked up the phone and we began speaking to him I knew we had to include him in the documentary. A lot of the other hunters that feature we just met at the tail collection points where people go to collect payment for all the tails they turn in. We met hundreds of hunters that way.
I found it interesting how musician and chef Kermit Ruffins cooks and serves up nutria, did you try any and what’s your verdict?
Oh yeah, I’ve tried nutria! So many people are freaked out by the idea of cooking and eating nutria. However, for Kermit, it’s just part of his upbringing growing up in New Orleans. Nutria was a Christmas food, as they eat a lot of wild food around this time. Also, Kermit is an excellent barbecue chef so he knows his stuff! It kind of tastes like rabbit.
Well, if I am in New Orleans I’ll make sure to check it out. Who are your cinematic inspirations and what made you decide to go into documentary filmmaking?
I went to a “hippie” college, and going into documentary filmmaking was one of the more conservative paths you could take. I became interested in the films of Les Blank, who filmed life in Louisiana. He just went down there and filmed his experiences. Also Werner Herzog was a huge influence on me, too. I’m a huge documentary nerd and it’s all I talk about. So I just decided documentary filmmaking was the thing I wanted to get into.
Do you think there is a negative stereotype regarding the people of Louisiana and a misconception of the culture down there?
People are really drawn to New Orleans and it has a strong reputation, but I feel the surrounding area known as the Cajun country is maybe less known. Part of what we wanted to do with the film was show just how special that area is and how much of a threat it is under. We saw it change quite dramatically during our time filming there [The film was shot over a course of four years] and they are losing a football field worth of land every hour, so it really is disappearing quite quickly. There’s a political divide, especially where I from (the Bay area which is quite liberal) and Louisiana which is more conservative. However, when you go and hang out with the people down there, all those political differences disappear as people just want to connect with you and make you feel welcome.
What are your general thoughts regarding the nutria after filming the documentary?
Well, after having our stunt nutria join us for screenings and festival events I think I would have a harder time going on nutria hunts! The program that was created by the State has been very successful in getting their numbers down from 20 million to several million. Still, several million is a big problem and it needs the state continuing to fund the program, but it is getting to a manageable situation. It’s getting to a place where the people can regrow the land, rebuild and invest, so in that way I feel positive about the future for the people of the Cajun.