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Returning to Paradise: Voices of the Human Spirit

"Returning to Paradise: Voices of the Human Spirit" A Preview of a New Documentary about the BP Oil Spill (2011) from Tempestas et Caelum Films on Vimeo.

Gulf Ecological & Human Disaster Project (GEHD)


The GEHD Project is an audio-visual work to document the ecological and human impact of the Deep Horizon Oil Disaster that occurred on April 20, 2010. The project is divided into five phases: 1) research, 2) field video collection, 3) WEIU-TV NewsWatch packages, 4) educational clips for classroom use, and 5) a 60-minute documentary film entitled “Returning to Paradise: Voices of the Human Spirit.”

The field collection took place June 17-20, 2010 in Louisiana with four participants representing different organizations and departments from Eastern Illinois University. These participants included Cameron Douglas Craig, Department of Geology/Geography and Tempestas et Caelum Productions; Zach Nugent, WEIU-TV; Andrew Schubert, Center for Academic Technology Support; and Michael Gismondi, Department of Geology/Geography, Tempestas et Caelum Productions, and WEIU-TV.

The benefits of this short excursion were to; 1) gather video footage for faculty member use in their courses, 2) produce a documentary film about the disaster and its impact on the Gulf, humanity, and future generations, 3) provide an outreach opportunity for the department and College of Science to present the team’s firsthand accounts of the impact of the disaster to the community, local schools, and campus, 4) enhance the Department of Geology/Geography’s collaboration with WEIU-TV and CATS, 5) demonstrate our commitment to Integrative Learning for future generations, and most of all, 6) support the reasons behind the university's devotion to renewable energy.

Phase 1: Research

Prior to the date of the excursion, the authors researched specific locations that could be easily traveled to within the short 3-day time frame.  Only one location presented itself as the greatest potential to obtain a significant amount of information, footage, and interviews; Grand Isle, Louisiana.  The team arranged for interviews with toxicologist, Kevin Kleinow, Ph.D., and members of the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University.

Although many images and stories were being presented on all media outlets, the project director determined that the team would not have any preconceived ideas or storyboards prior to the excursion.  The purpose of this was to remain objective and allow the story to present itself as it happened rather than apply the team’s inaccurate perception of the impact. 

Phase 2: Field Video Collection

The team headed to Grand Isle, Louisiana, which was the most impacted location of the oil spill based on government response resources.  What the team found was different than what had been perceived.  The oil that had previously been washed up on the beaches was already cleaned up. Although, we could still see the stain left from the oil.  The week prior to our arrival, Alan Alford, EIU Alumnus, visited the same location and witnessed the clean up.  The feeling on the island was extremely tense.  There was a great deal of anger.

The team was fortunate enough to acquire a media flight from the Alabama Civil Air Patrol that gave the team a unique aerial view of the oil spill impact around Mobile Bay.  Point Clear is situated on the eastern edge of Mobile Bay and was the next location of focus.  Here, the Grand Hotel took precautions to protect its waterfront from the possibility of oil moving into the bay.  The final destination was Dauphin Island, which is situated to the southwest of Mobile Bay.  It was here that the team had the most success in determining the direction of the project and resultant documentary film.  The team spoke with several residents who own businesses and live on the island that they consider paradise.  Although the dark-brownish-red oil that viewers have seen on news reports did not engulf the island's beaches, the spill has greatly affected life in regards to tourism, economy, and their future.

Phases 3 & 4: WEIU TV News Packages & Educational Video Clips

WEIU News Packages (Aired June 21-25)
Produced by Zach Nugent, Executive Producer Cameron Craig
Watch other segments from WEIUs Newswatch

Once the team returned to EIU, Zach Nugent and Mike Gismondi began to piece together the footage into short video pieces to air on WEIUs EMMY Award winning NewsWatch.  This phase allowed the students involved to communicate their personal observations from the Gulf and make it relate to the viewers here in east-central Illinois. 

In the following month, the interviews and footage acquired were put together in small short clips that highlight important observations and experiences from the Gulf.  Of particular interest is the hour long interview on a porch on Dauphin Island with Kelby Linn, Robin Linn, Jim Hall, and Amy Vice.  This unedited documentary film has been used in several classrooms across the campus such as Freshman English, Spaceship Earth, and Introduction to Earth Science.  The educational value of this unedited interview is that students have changed their perception from what they previously learned from media outlets.

Phase 5: Documentary Film

The primary purpose of the project was to develop and produce a documentary film to educate and provide an awareness of the issues some Gulf coast residents are facing and will face in the future.  The planned film entitled, "Returning to Paradise: Voices of the Human Spirit," focuses on the stories and issues presented by the individuals the team spoke with during the short excursion.  While the team acknowledges the fact that there will be various documentary films emphasizing the "how and why" of the oil spill, the director and producer are focusing on the pre- and post-perceptions humans have on this particular disaster.


The GEHD Project was a chance to see first hand what the project director and students were seeing on many media outlets.  The team’s perceptions were changed once the team witnessed Grand Isle and spoke with Gulf coast residents.  As the documentary film begins to take shape, the team is planning to make another trip in the near future to assess the changes those the team interviewed and document additional challenges the voices of the Gulf coast will face in the years to come.

For more information or to schedule an interview about this project, contact Cameron Craig via email at

Returning to Paradise: Voices of the Human Spirit will premier on WEIU TV, Charleston, Illinois on April 20, 2011 at 6PM Central.

Student Participants