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In Barry Levinson's latest—think Blair Witch meets Jaws meets The Day After Tomorrow—the Chesapeake Bay is a soup of steroid-laced chicken shit, pesticide runoff, and radioactive waste that turns a parasitic isopod species into flesh-eating mini-monsters. Levinson (Diner; Rain Man; Good Morning, Vietnam) filmed The Bay—which hit theaters earlier this month—mock-doc style, using a hodgepodge of gritty real-time video formats. I asked the acclaimed director about science versus fiction and why he went for a low-budget ecothriller.
Mother Jones: How did this movie come about?
Barry Levinson: I was approached to do a documentary about the Chesapeake Bay. I started doing research and found there was already a great Frontline doc, but nobody cares—people say, "It's polluted, so what?" I said no. But a few months later, I thought, "We've gathered all this research; why don't we tweak it for a theatrical release? We can scare an audience with a story that is 80 to 85 percent science and facts."
MJ: Were you inspired by Jaws or Aliens?
BL: No. The creatures in this film do exist. They go from small parasites on fish gills into isopods that eat fish from the inside. But if you're playing around with the toxic soup, who knows what will happen?
MJ: Was it hard, weaving together all this unconventional footage?
BL: We made this film for $2 million, shot it in 18 days with a small crew using a lot of first-time actors, and used 21 different types of video cameras, including iPhones and cheap underwater video gear, to make it seem credible. This made for more-complicated editing. Everything had to be plotted out and done in one shot.
MJ: It's notable that you don’t have a Hollywood hero arriving to save the day.