March 28, 2019

An explosive invasion of green crabs is an ecological catastrophe in the making in four neighboring towns on the Massachusetts coast in RECIPE FOR DISASTER directed by Nubar Alexanian.  SFF program director Jeff Schmidt caught up with Alexanian ahead of the short film’s World Premiere as part of Shorts Block D at the National Park Service’s Salem Visitor Center on Sunday, March 31 at 10am.

Jeff Schmidt: You have been working as a documentary filmmaker for over 40 years, what are some of the past films you have worked on that have inspired you to carry on all of these years?

Nubar Alexanian: I’m very fond of the expression:  “It’s not what calls you. It’s what keeps you.” There is no shortage of compelling stories out there waiting & wanting to be told and some of them just grab hold of you and won’t let go. This is what happened with RECIPE FOR DISASTER.  It quickly became a film I had to make because it’s about a catastrophe in the making that is happening in my neighborhood. Also, my daughter and I have been working on a feature length documentary film since 2011 currently called SCARS OF SILENCE: Three Generations From Genocide, about the affects of the Armenian Genocide on our family. This certainly keeps me going…and often keeps me awake at night.

CALLING ALL CHEFS is one of my favorite short docs because it’s about the importance of the food we eat and the main character, chef Paolo Laboa, was a spectacular subject.  So, for me, inspiration has always come from connection to the subject.

JS: How did you come to learn of the Green Crab?

NA: I’ve lived in the marshes of Cape Ann for a long time as a photographer and avid striped bass fisherman.  So I know these marshes very well. However, in June of 2017 I heard about the explosion of the green crab population and was stunned that I had not heard about it before.  How could this be? How bad was it? Like many documentary filmmakers, producing a film is a way of educating myself about a subject and finishing the film is a way of sharing what I’ve learned.

JS: It seems improbable that a small creature could wreak so much havoc on our habitat, but this really has become a serious problem hasn’t it?

NA: In some areas of Maine, green crabs have destroyed 80% of the soft shell clams and decimated more than 1,000 acres of eel grass, which is an important nursery for fin fish.  This hasn’t happened in the marshes around Cape Ann… not yet, although they have destroyed the mussel beds in the Essex River. As the water temperature in the Gulf Of Maine increases (and it’s increasing faster than any other body of water) the green crab population continues to grow.  Adam Smith, the fisherman and crab trapper you see in the film with his son, hauled in 200,000 pounds of crabs in 2017. In 2018 they trapped almost 500,000 pounds in exactly the same place! And there’s another species of green crabs making their way down the East Coast from Nova Scotia that’s far more aggressive than those who live in the Great Marsh right now.

JS: Did you encounter any challenges or surprises during filming?

NA:  The science in this story was quite a challenge at times. This was, in part, because the population of crabs has been increasing so fast, that the sciene was slow to keep up and scientists often disagreed about what was actually happening.  Are the crabs destroying the structure of the marsh, or not? If not, who is making all those tunnels in the Great Marsh that are causing the banks to cave in? Six months ago we did a screening of an earlier version of the film in Gloucester to a packed audience. During the Q&A I thought a huge fight was going to break out in the audience about what is actually happening with the crabs and why. It was very interesting.

JS: What do you hope people will take away from RECIPE FOR DISASTER?  And… do you have any favorite Green Crab recipes you would like to share?

NA: RECIPE FOR DISASTER is a wake up call– to people and policy makers alike—about the fact that there are billions of crabs in the the Great Marsh. No one knows about this problem! When Senator Bruce Tarr saw the trailer for our film he said:  “OMG, there’s a horror film taking place in my district and I had no idea it was going on!” If people don’t know about the problem, the folks trying to solve it have little access to the resources they need. Everyone agrees on one thing: the crabs aren’t going away.  The only solution is to find ways to keep pressure on them to slow the growth of their population.

I don’t have any green crab recipes (although the She-Crab soup is delicious).  However, if you visit you can find recipes provided by the Green Crab R&D Project along with their terrific green crab cookbook.

RECIPE FOR DISASTER screens as part of Shorts Block D at the National Park Service’s Salem Visitor Center on Sunday, March 31 at 10am – FREE ADMISSION:

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