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In 2005, Hurricane Katrina put 80% of New Orleans underwater and demolished nearly all waterfront structures. But this film is not about Katrina, it is about the larger region south of New Orleans that survived the hurricane and is now facing its latest threat—hordes of monstrous 20 pound rodents known as “nutria”.
Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are one of the largest disappearing landmasses in the world and the voracious appetite of this curious and unexpected invasive species from South America is greatly accelerating coastal erosion, which in turn makes the area even more vulnerable to hurricanes. As the coastline disappears, the hunters and trappers, fishermen and shrimpers, storytellers and musicians are leaving en masse. Nonetheless, a stalwart few remain and are fighting back.
RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE tells the story of one such diehard, Thomas Gonzales, and his community of Delacroix Island, as they fight the invasion of the rodents. The State of Louisiana has started a program that pays a $5 bounty for every nutria tail collected, which has helped the effort by encouraging former trappers to hunt the nutrias for their tails instead of the fur. Others have tried business ventures to harvest the nutria for their fur and meat in hopes that by creating a demand for this sustainable resource they can help protect the wetlands and fight back the rodents.
We meet Kermit Ruffins, a local celebrity and jazz musician, who barbeques nutria outside his concerts in an effort to create interest in eating the rodents. There is the Native American tribe who wants to return to their trapping past by selling the pelts to Russia and China. Then there is the fashion collective known as Righteous Fur who designs clothes made out of nutria fur, puts on fashion shows, and tries to renew the demand in the fur industry by promoting “sustainable fur” that will save the wetlands.
And yet despite the havoc this invasive species has done to Southern Louisiana, it has also been embraced by the culture. The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has opened a nutria exhibit, the local Triple-A baseball team has a nutria as a mascot, and even some Cajuns have nutria as pets.
Through these offbeat and unexpected stories of the people confronting the nutria problem, RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE examines issues surrounding coastal erosion, the devastation surrounding hurricanes, loss of culture and homeland, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Sat November 3, 2018, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
USA, 2017, in English, Color, 71 min, 16:9 HD