An abandoned oyster boat on today’s Eastpoint wharf is emblematic of the film’s\ message of what is being lost. [ Richard Bickel | Contributed ]
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Documentary on oyster ecosystems wins Emmy

A documentary film that focuses on the environmental pressures confronting oyster reefs worldwide, with a particular emphasis on Apalachicola Bay, has won its second Emmy award as it continues to gather both heightened attention and critical acclaim.

At a ceremony held Dec. 2 in Hollywood, Florida, “UNFILTERED: The Truth About Oysters” won a Suncoast Emmy Award in the Documentary Topical category. 

In addition, the film’s theme song, “The Last Four,” which was written by musician Clayton Mathis, owner of the Apalachicola Yacht Company bar, was nominated in the Musical/Composition/Arrangement category.

The production team sharing in the Emmy honors include Director Josh McLawhorn, and assistants Gaby Rodeiro, and Stephen Leacock; Executive Producer Chucha Barber; and Apalachicola-based photojournalist Richard Bickel, a longtime chronicler of the heights, and depths, of the fortunes of Apalachicola Bay. 

This is the second Emmy for the project, having won the first in 2021 for “Environmental Science, Short Form” with what became the film’s trailer.

While earlier this year the Gibson Inn hosted a private screening of the film, it has yet to be released to a general audience, although Barber is confident that soon will change. “The production team is very proud of the great response we have had to the film at film festivals,” she said. “We are feeling that the awards the film has won will entice a streaming platform to offer us a contract. We are hoping for the widest distribution possible for this very important story.” 

Chucha Barber

Barber, a member in good standing with the Producers Guild of America, has been creating documentary films for more than 30 years on topics as diverse as art, paleontology, high-profile murders and auto racing. She has produced more than 29 documentaries in partnership with network-owned stations including NBC, CBS, ABC, Univision and Telemundo, with her work having earned seven Suncoast Emmy Awards, a Girl Scouts of America Women of Distinction Award, and two Gracie Awards from the Alliance for Women in Media.

She is currently working on her first television series and a documentary about the current and historical significance of Black churches to societal change.

“We are so grateful the people of Apalachicola allowed us to share such a gripping story,” said Barber. “The work of Richard Bickel, which is the engaging opening sequence, sets the whole tone for the film. It’s true that pictures speak 1,000 words but Richard’s photos speak about 10 times that rate. 

“We are also grateful to Clayton Mathis for sharing his amazing song, ‘The Last Four’ with us,” she said.

Barber said comments by attendees at the various festivals where it appeared (see sidebar) have included “awe inspiring,” “an extremely important film,” “every legislator should be required to watch this,” and “first class storytelling and cinematography.”

Michael and Tammy Boone after the closure of Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting. Michael’s “Unfiltered’ straight-talk interview reveals the human toll of a fishery’s collapse. [ Richard Bickel | Contributed ]

The film includes researchers from some of Florida’s most prestigious universities along with voices of Apalachicola residents. including Thirteen Mile Seafood owner Tommy Ward and former Eastpoint oyster broker Susan Reeder. Marine scientist and visual artist Dr. Guy Harvey and celebrity Chef Art Smith also make film appearances.

“Florida has a unique opportunity to become a global leader for restoration of oyster reefs and water quality,” said McLawhorn, the film’s director and cinematographer. “The research that has been conducted to produce the film has revealed a drastic circumstance for what is considered a keystone species for aquatic environments, a food source for thousands of years and an essential factor for healthy estuaries, including our own world famous Apalachicola Bay.”

Bickel said that receiving the Emmy was both “unexpected and humbling” although he was not on hand to receive it.

“I had been out-of-country for a month, photographing in remote Rajasthan, India and had missed the awards ceremony,” he said. “Being out of conventional communications channels I had no idea I’d received the Emmy until returning home and finding it in my mailbox.”

Richard Bickel

Bickel, who has published the best-selling photo books “The Last Great Bay” and “Apalachicola: An American Treasure,” said he has “high regards” for his fellow filmmakers.

“It has been a privilege to know and work with producer Chucha Barber and cinematographer Josh McLawhorn,” he said. “110% of the credit for Unfiltered’s success must go, of course, to their unbridled talents. They created a brilliant documentary that is being acknowledged internationally.

“It is cerebral and a visually stunning work of art – yet above all, it delivers a profound overriding message for our planet of the interdependence of links in the eco-chain,” Bickel said. “And reveals that when one of those links is lost, in this case a seeming-lowly mollusk, the entire chain is lost. Sadly, this we have witnessed in our own backyard, Apalachicola Bay, with the tragic demise of our oyster industry and the attendant loss of the livelihoods of Franklin and Gulf County generational fishermen.” 

Bickel, who has been documenting the Apalachicola fishing community for nearly three decades, adds that there remains hope for our Bay, and beyond. 

“Information is getting out; people are becoming more aware of the fragility – and the irreplaceable value – of our living waters and those who depend on them. Hopefully, educational processes such that Unfiltered provides will continue to teach us so, for the sake of our planet and the sake of our species.” 

Richard Bickel invites Apalachicola Times and Port St. Joe Star readers to visit his gallery where his new “India Witness” imagery is now on display.

The film “Unfiltered” has been screened at more than 25 film festivals in the United States, Canada, Europe and South America. Additional recent awards include:

  • Best Documentary Markham Film Festival, Canada
  • Best Documentary Tallahassee Film Festival
  • Best Documentary Hercules Film Festival, Seville, Spain
  • Best Director, T.I.F.A. Film Festival, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Documentary Finalist T.I.F.A. Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Best Documentary Finalist – DUMBO Film Festival – Manhattan, NY
  • Best Documentary, Green Jack International Film Festival, Bear Lake, CA
  • Best Documentary, Gulf Coast International Film Festival, Houston, TX
  • Best Documentary, Blast Off Indy Fest, Los Angeles, CA
  • Best Documentary Emerald Coast Film Festival, Destin, FL
  • Sunshine Celluloid Award, Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
  • Robert Stewart Environmental Film Award, Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (Four of these prestigious awards, named for environmentalist and filmmaker Robert Stewart, are awarded each year, worldwide, in celebration of ocean conservation and environmental practices.)
A poster for “Unfiltered”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

One Comment

  1. Great story, David. I know TNC has been
    Involved w/ a project over the years to get Ga.
    2 reduce Ag. ‘s upstream use of this river. I would very much appreciate being included in this loop & also, I loo k forward to seeing
    the documentary.

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