Rodents of Unusual Size

Rodents of Unusual Size

Sat November 3, 7:30 PM

Muenzinger Auditorium

Director Quinn Costello in person

Giant swamp rats have invaded coastal Louisiana, and defiant people on the edge of the world are defending their communities, culture, and livelihoods from the onslaught of this curious and unexpected invasive species. (IMDb)

Taking its title from the mythical swamp beasts that stalk the heroes of Rob Reiner’s beloved fairy-tale The Princess Bride, the documentary Rodents of Unusual Size is the latest in the ‘eco-statement factual filmmaking’ genre. It is the story of the ‘nutria’, an introduced species of South American swamp rat that has decimated the Louisiana wetlands and must be controlled via humane methods. But for co-directors Quinn Costello, Jeff Springer and Chris Metzler, what presented itself was a grander story; one of resilience, determination to overcome adversity and learning to co-exist in harmony with non-indigenous settlers, albeit the four-legged, buck-toothed variety.

Rodents of Unusual Size is frank in its depiction of the culling and re-use of the nutria, an experience that challenged the three lads, each born-and–bred city folk. “Looking through the lens creates a barrier, so you feel a bit detached. But any given hunt can yield as many as 300 nutrias, so you look up from the camera [and] you are quickly brought back to reality,” admits Metzler. Over time, however, the clear necessity of the eradication program outweighed personal reactions. “Witnessing the destruction they cause and considering the animals [that] are going to suffer, we started to understand and accept the hunting. Over time, nutria numbers have dropped from 20 million down to about 5 million,” says Metzler, who points out that plague proportions mean animal welfare groups have accepted that culling is unavoidable. “P.E.T.A. has been silent on the issue as many see it as the lesser or two evils,” he says.

After the journey undertaken to tell the story of the nutria and the land and people who share their existence, the three filmmakers remain divided into ‘for-and-against’ nutria camps. “I think they are fuzzy and cute and want one as a pet,” beams Metzler, “[but] Jeff and Quinn want to barbecue them up.”

— Simon Foster, Screen Space

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