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Don’t eat the Tilapia

â€Å"Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea” plays The Grand Sunday

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When a movie promises me “Hungarian Revolutionaries, Christian Nudists, Pop Stars, Land Sharks, Hard Drinkers, Empty Cities, Failed Resort Towns, Tons of Dead Fish, A Dying Café, and A Man Who built a Mountain,” I take note.

This same movie, “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea,” will be screened at the Grand Cinema on Sunday, May 20, for one showing only, at noon.

The film, which has garnered 30 best documentary awards as well as an HBO Producer’s Award and official selection into the Slamdance Film Festival, was previously screened in Tacoma during the Tacoma Film Festival.  This time around, co-director Jeff Springer will be there with members of the Tahoma Audubon Society to talk about the film.

So how’s that Audubon thing fit in? Aside from the Audubon Society being instrumental in the Grand’s re-screening of the film, the society has a vested interest in birds.

Remember that earlier mention of “Tons of Dead Fish?”  When birds eat said dead fish, or dying fish that aren’t getting oxygen from the water due to salinity increase in the heat of summer, those birds don’t fare well, and then the Audubon Society steps in to help.

But that wasn’t originally why the filmmakers chose to take on this project.

According to a conversation I had with co-director Chris Metzler, who’s showing the movie in the Midwest, the Salton Sea was an area of interest to the two directors, initially, because “it’s visually very bizarre,” with a saltwater lake in the middle of a desert, and a dying suburbia. 

But as Metzler and Springer began to “peel back the layers,” Metzler said, “I can’t believe this is a place not a lot of people know about.”

Throw in the odd eccentric naked man, a mafioso-looking Magyar, drunken golf-cart driving, a mountain of holy mud, and mountains of dead fish from a “toxic Margarita,” and you have a rivetingly entertaining 70 minutes.

Past the entertainment value, you also have the sort of environmental message that any town based on real estate speculation should wisely heed; if you build it, they might come, but when things start showing up dead, what happens next?

The “what happens next” part is what Metzler and Springer are working for.  Perhaps the movie stands as a great way to hear John Waters narrate a bizarre tale about a bizarre place with bizarre people, but maybe, more importantly, the movie stands as a great way to learn about a situation where a positive change can still be affected.

Springer will be available for a Q and A session after the film’s screening Sunday.

[The Grand Cinema, Sunday May 20, noon, $4.50-$8, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.593.4474]

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