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Stamford’s Avon Theatre to welcome some ’Rodents of Unusual Size”

October 2, 2018

In a land riddled with holes, three filmmakers found a story worth telling about the creatures who were making them.

“They eat the roots of the plants that hold the land together,” says Jeff Springer, of the large rodents known as nutria that are eating away the underpinnings of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. “They keep eating and eating and the area keeps losing more of the land. It just falls away.”

The nutria, giant swamp rats that are indigenous to South America, are collectively, the title character of “Rodents of Unusual Size,” the documentary Springer, Chris Metzler and Quinn Costello released last year. The other stars of the film are the people, such as Delacroix fisherman Thomas Gonzales, who live alongside this invasive species and are fighting to keep their community, land and way of life alive.

Every year, these creatures, which can grow to about 20 pounds, carve away crucial land mass - a portion of the 16 square miles that erode each year.

The movie will be shown at the Avon Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, as part of the film center’s documentary series. Springer will be at the screening to answer questions.

Perhaps one of them might be this: Why are these creatures in Louisiana?

Transported to Louisiana (and other states) in the 1930s for the fur farming industry, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries say the nutria made their way to the marshes after accidental or intentional release. The environment and climate turned out to be a boon, and by the 1970s, the population was up to about 25 million, Springer says.

The inhabitants of this land at the edge of the world have found a way to lure them in, so as to collect a nominal fee for each tail. Some have taken to eating the rodents, though it still remains an acquired taste.

“When you live in Louisiana and there are all these wonderful things to eat, like crab and shrimp and all that, why would you eat nutria,” Springer asks.

Some companies have capitalized on the ingredient, including Louisiana-based Marsh Dog, which makes dog biscuits out of wild nutria.

One of the more elusive shots for the three directors was closeup of wild nutria, which are typically skittish around humans and cameras. The closest the film crew came was at a golf course, where they had hunkered down at dusk in a hunting blind. To get a better, up-close sense of the star of the film, the filmmakers turned to animal star Nooty the Nutria. Trained since birth, she didn’t bolt when the camera came out.

The filmmakers began the project in 2013. Thanks to a donor, they stayed stay during their stints of filming, which led to a deeper understanding of the community. They have this upbeat attitude and happy approach to life and that was really impressive,” says Springer, who recently moved to New York City. “What I took away with me was their resilience against this threat and how they were going to deal with it.”

chennessy@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

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