From the ocean, back to the ocean, we mostly see oysters on a platter in a restaurant, but what happens exactly between their harvesting to our plates and afterwards? S/W alum Paavo Hanninen (Ghost Girl, I Think I’m Dying) is back on the site with What Remains, a documentary that chronicles the life of oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, to New Orleans restaurants, back to the water. With an important environmental perspective, and gorgeous cinematography, Hanninen takes us on the surprisingly engaging journey of the salt-water mollusc.
LA-based Hanninen shared with that What Remains originated when Southern Foodways Alliance, credited as a producer, commissioned him to make a film about food waste. While researching the topic, he discovered the Oyster Shell Recycling Program and the work of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. “This was a jumping off point for me to then build a film that took a process-oriented and yet human-focused approach to looking at this program and what it is hoping to achieve”, the director explains.
The structure of the film revolves around the life and thus cycle of oysters. From that backbone, Hanninen fleshes out his narrative by addressing environmental, geographic and societal issues in South Louisiana. From here, the degradation of the coast is subtly introduced and becomes intertwined with this story about oysters. Hanninen also makes sure to put a human face to his film, by including the testimonies of key players, who also bring their own backstories to the film, at each step of the process. As the film plays, more and more layers reveal themselves, providing us with a developing understanding of the situation in South Louisiana, from many different perspectives- from scientific to community oriented.
A standout element of What Remains is the aesthetic, which is incredibly striking and captivating. With DP Alex Hennen Payne, Hanninen opted for a 4:3 aspect ratio that allowed them to carefully build frames that are filled with oysters, establishing that they are at the core of the film. The images are beautiful and definitely contribute to grabbing the audience’s attention. To keep that visual flair, he opted out of talking heads and juxtaposed some of his footage to the conversations he had with his participants, which he kept as casual and organic as possible by following them during their working day. This gives the film a certain authenticity both visually and narratively, that enhances its emotional layer.
What Remains hit the festival circuit in 2021, with multiple selections, ahead of its online premiere as part of The New Yorker catalogue, in the following year. Hanninen currently has multiple projects in the pipeline including: two one-hour drama series pilots titled The Machine and Slow Burn and two feature films – the first a fiction titled Remote View, currently in pre-production and produced by Houston King. The second a documentary called From Way Downtown, produced by Darcy McKinnon.