In ‘Rodents of Unusual Size,’ Truth is Stranger Than Fiction
Documentary filmmakers Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer spent four years following giant swamp rats decimating the Louisiana coastline—and the local hunters committed to stopping them.
[Quinn]: I was in New Orleans for New Year's Eve one year and I had a friend who... she kept
going on about, ''they're these gigantic rodents brought over here from Argentina
as this cheap alternative to fur coats and then all of a sudden their numbers
were just completely out of control.
And so people are eating them, people are
wearing them. All of these different things we've tried to get rid of them."
And I just couldn't believe
what she was telling me.
That was where that kind of seed was planted.
[Chris]: We just realized here was another unusual story,
head to Louisiana, meet these people that were
living kind of on the edge of the world.
[Announcer]: Please welcome up the filmmakers to 'Rodents of Unusual Size,'
Chris, Quinn, and Jeff.
[Jeff]: Our approach to documentary is you
never really know what the movie is gonna be.
And I think that was part of the fun of
exploring, letting the people in the environment tell us what the film is gonna be.
[Chris]: Yeah, I think one of the things we were trying to decide early on is
like how much of this would be a movie about nutria.
We wanted to see how far we could kind of push
exploring, you know, the kind of culture of Louisiana that's lost.
- Louisiana's coastal wetlands are very fragile.
It's the highest rate of erosion in the continuous United States
that also provides
protection from storm surge and hurricane surge.
Nutria is one cause that
exacerbates the environmental processes that take place.
A lot of these areas that are impacted by nutria and eventually convert to open water.
They become lost and they are lost forever.
[Quinn]: When we started making this film,
there was this tax credit in Louisiana that created a situation where there were
actually 30 reality shows being filmed down there at one time.
[Reality show narrator]: Six Americans wage war on a foreign invader...
[Quinn]: Even a nutria show called 'Rat Bastards'.
And so people were really used to TV crews coming and caricaturing them,
blowing their stories up and kind of making fun of them.
[Jeff]: We were always kind of worried about access.
Will these people let us into their lives?
And actually it was surprisingly easy, and I think a lot of that has to do with just
being an authentic person with a genuine interest in their lives.
[Thomas]: When I was 13 years old, I quit school to be a fisherman.
My education is the sea.
[Jeff]: I think that really shows and I think people sense that.
[Thomas]: When I look out now,
it looks like a disaster.
All that grass -- they cleaned it like a baseball field.
Hurricane Katrina took my house, but we still have plenty nutria,
and that's why they got a bounty, five dollars for this tail.
[Quinn]: The first day that we went... it's a whole armada of people.
They're just killing hundreds of nutria,
and that day I thought, I've made
a terrible mistake.
They're bigger, there are more of them than I ever imagined.
[Chris]: They're just like blood splattering everywhere
and Jeff's just up there "they're just cutting off that tail!"
[Thomas]: Yeah I got about 80 this week and helps pay the bills, you know.
[Quinn]: But the thing that really stuck with me was how much pride people were
taking in protecting their natural environment.
[Liz]: You ain't gonna eat no more grass now?
All my family is from over here, but if the land's gone,
then me and my family don't have a future.
[Chris]: I don't think anybody takes pleasure in, you know, an animal necessarily losing his life,
but animal lovers or vegetarians often are like,
"I was really reluctant to come see this movie
but now that I understand the situation, I understand that
there's these different trade-offs involved
and I understand why we need to eliminate the nutria."
[Thomas]: We got something in common, me and the nutria.
He's a survivor like me, you know he wants to survive.
[Chris]: And I think the thing that really kind of attracts us
to these sorts of stories is that the characters
in our films allows you to kind of explore
this subjective notion of what success and failure is.
[Thomas]: I had a five bedroom house. It's gone.
[Chris]: They're living in the area where they know they're gonna get hit by hurricanes,
you know, every decade or so.
[Woman]: We survive but is not easy.
[Chris]: People would say "well, why in the world
would you continue to live there?"
But the thing is they've actually found this kind of paradise.
It's a place that they know and that they love.
[Jeff]: They take a bad situation to make something really good out of it.
It's their resilience and the way that they deal with all this.
It's really taught us a lot about,
you know, just how to be a better person in a way.
[Chris]: Hey, hey, everybody!
We've been traveling around the United States with this film for a while,
so it's exciting to be able to bring it back home.
Mr. Thomas, come and join us!
[Quinn]: To finally share it with the people who are actually in the film is just incredibly exciting.
I really hope that they can say "yes, that is me, that is my experience."
So what did you think of the movie?
[Thomas]: Pretty good, man! I didn't think y'all could do it that good.
It was pretty good. I enjoyed it, yeah.
[Quinn]: We, I think, succeeded in capturing this moment in time.
Louisiana isn't gonna be the same five years from now,
and we saw a change over the four years that we were there.
We saw a lot of land disappear, we saw a lot of people moving away.
[Quinn]: I called another guy and he's like "I'm good"
but if you want to talk to the king of the nutria hunters,
you gotta call Thomas Gonzales.
- The relationships, the friendships that we built --
I'm just proud of the fact that this movie captures
the spirit of who these people are.
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