Documentary film festivals super 8 super 8 film Tar Creek

Tar Creek Conference Recap

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 25th National Environmental Tar Creek Conference held at Northeastern Oklahoma (NEO) A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma from October 10-12. This was the 25th year of the conference – which is both impressive on one hand and concerning on the other, given the persistence of the issues surrounding Tar Creek. The purpose of the invite was to present my film, Take Care, Tar Creek – Revisited.

My wife and I drove up to Miami from Norman earlier in the day.

I had not seen the program and did not know exactly when I presenting. When I opened the conference program I was surprised to see that there was more to it. The title read, “Chat Research Results in Super 8 Movie – Aaron Gibson, researcher and filmmaker.” So wait, was I supposed to talk about my Masters Thesis research project from 20 years ago to this room full of actual scientist, researchers, regulatory agency representatives, and community members? At once I felt unprepared, under-qualified, and anxious. Thankfully, my wife was there to reassure me that all I really needed to do was relate the past to the present, and go from there.

Watching the session just before mine; a Doctoral candidate talking about sulfate-reducing bacteria, did not instill confidence, but instead reminded me how disconnected I was with “the science.” What was I doing here? Why wasn’t I here years ago when I could actually speak intellectually about the hypothesis, about sampling and data collection methodology, about results, the spectrum of metal concentrations, about the distribution of particle sizes in the mine tailings, and about statistical analyses? But how could I, now, twenty–plus years later? Yet, here, and moreover, NOW, I was.

The time came and Mrs. Rebecca Jim introduced me and I made my way to the front of the room.

At this point, I don’t remember if what I said was relevant. Surely I mentioned my background, summarized my research, did what I could to connect the past to more current experiences. I downplayed my “research” side, my “scientist” persona. The position I was in now, was not a “scientist,” but as a filmmaker – and in that capacity, I felt much more at ease.

There was some technical issue with the showing of the film, in fact, the movie kicked off a few seconds beyond the opening scene – but was a moot point – something that surely nobody would really notice.

After the film the lights came up and there was applause and I notice some people drying their eyes. I thanked the room for their response to the film and took a few questions. There were questions about the type of medium used, if I had the chance to shoot the film on some other kind of media, would I? What advice could I give someone going from science to filmmaking? I received several compliments about things in the film.

The session concluded with Rebecca thanking me at the front of the stage and I took my seat.

There was a second showing later in the evening as an after-hours event in an auditorium. This was also listed in the program but this one just read “Super 8 Movie” and had a blurb about a discussion with the filmmaker. I found this showing to be more comfortable for me, possibly knowing what to expect and knowing that just the film aspect would be the focus of the discussion. Some of the audience members had seen the previous showing – but this one was better because I was able to start the film at the actual start.

The voice of Tar Creek, Rebecca Jim, and I after the second showing of the film.

Again, at the end, there were some questions and comments about the making of the film, and I went into more detail about the interview itself. At the end of the showing I was honored and recognized with a Mike Synar Environmental Excellence Award for “my cinematic vision of the story Tar Creek herself would tell.” It was a wonderful gesture and came quite unexpectedly.

Overall, the experience was meaningful in that this creation, not just mine, but everyone who had a hand in it – originated from nothing and culminated in a final piece (or tool, or thing, or product, or whatever you want to call it), to encapsulate a story that has value. Not value in the sense of monetary value, but value in the sense that it can be used to further the position and the message. Activism value. Change value. The kind of value that makes a difference to the environment and to people.

The film is a means to make science palatable for people who are not scientist or policy makers.


I am currently in the process of applying to various film festivals.

I am excited to announce that the film was accepted to the Red Dirt Film Festival in Stillwater, OK. More to come in future posts.


TCTCR – Single Frames

Take Care Tar Creek Revisited

These are some freeze frame from my recently processed and digitized Super 8 film; Take Care, Tar Creek (Revisited).

Shooting at 18 frames-per-second we can sometimes miss the individual frames.

And sometimes the frames in-between the “main content” and just as interesting.

A frame before the feature. Burn frame.
Digital title added over the natural color of the developed film.
My son on a chat pile at Tar Creek. From the short-form documentary “Take Care, Tar Creek (Revisited)” to be premiered at this year’s Tar Creek Conference, 2023.

I am still editing the final cut of this short form documentary – so still remains to be seen what the end result will be.

The first version was an in-camera version of the film produced specifically for a film festival called Straight 8 Film Festival in London.

This revised (revisited) version allows me the latitude to edit the pictures, the music, the narrative…everything. So quite a bit different than the original. I hope this will allow for a more comprehensive approach that will produce a more meaningful story and impact.

Frame capture of abandoned church in Picher, OK


Lisa and Aaron at the Cherokee Welcome Center in Vinita, OK after a day of filming in the Tar Creek region.

Photo by Rebecca Jim

Looking through the camera lens, it was a good day of filming. But it’s always hard to know exactly what you captured, whether it was in focus, if the light metering was correct, if the camera movement was too much, if there was some other crazy unknown issue with the film cartridge inside the camera, until you get it processed and see the actual pictures.

Chat and large mine tailings.

I took roughly 6840 photographs; thats’s two rolls of Super 8 film running at 18 frames per second (fps) for three minutes and ten seconds (3:10) each.

Bridge over Tar Creek. Chat pile in the near distance. Chat covering the road.

This footage will be layered into the original version of the film I created a year ago for the Straight 8 Film Festival in London, England. Unlike that project, this time I get to use all the magical tools of editing available to me. And I intend to do so.

Filming a highly polluted and toxic Tar Creek (Photo by Lisa).

I have some ideas about hand-drawn titles and illustrations that I’m going to play around with. If it works out, I hope to build on the original with more footage and broader story-telling strokes that will better express what Tar Creek has to say.

Me setting up a shot towards my subject (Photo by Lisa).
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Tar Creek Revisited

I have started working on a revised iteration of my Straight 8 film submission, Take Care, Tar Creek which will feature a newly edited and expanded version of the original film. The newer version will be in the same vein as the first version; same topic, same approach, with the narrative being told from the perspective of Tar Creek, itself. The working title for the time being is Take Care, Tar Creek (revisited).

Picher, Oklahoma. Northeast Oklahoma. Tar Creek Superfund Site

I have been invited to feature the film at the 2023 Tar Creek Conference in Miami, OK in October.

I have ordered some additional film; a couple of rolls of 50D Super 8 film from Pro8mm, and plan to drive to NE Oklahoma this weekend to shoot some additional footage.

This is all moving pretty fast, under the circumstances, but kind of makes sense for the way I work.

I’ve already started the revised edit of the new film. I think this version will be somewhere on the order of about 5 minutes in length. I have some behind the scenes footage from the first version (about a year ago), that I’m going to put online.

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Now Showing: Take Care, Tar Creek

View on YouTube (above) or on Vimeo at the following link:

Although we didn’t make the cut of top 25 for this year’s Straight8 Film Festival in London, we are pleased with the results and have to have the opportunity to tell this story in a unique way. I look forward to future projects that may bring me closer to telling the story in a more complete manner.

Special thanks goes to Rebecca Jim of LEAD Agency for her participation and continuing efforts to be a spokesperson and advocate for Tar Creek and the surrounding community.

Another big thank you to Stephen Rose for producing the music track. And thanks to my son Summit Gibson who was there throughout the shoot and featured in the film as well.

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Take Care, Tar Creek. What’s next?

Working on a strategy to continue the storytelling at Tar Creek. Looking to produce a 4-6 episode series that could be picked up by one of the big streaming services. Looking for interested parties and/or producers that might be able help me see this through.

Working on the script for this concept, based on my recently completed short film of the same title.

More to come…

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S8: 22 – 8 Take Care, Tar Creek (Shipping Worries)

Shipping Worries

Exposed Super 8 film cartridge, prepping for shipping to UK for processing and digitizing.

It’s a nerve wracking feeling packing, labelling, and shipping the film. You wouldn’t think so but given there are customs forms, labels, packing, and payment, and then once it leaves your hands all you can do is hope it makes it where it’s supposed to go.

The next day I left on a work trip and during a layover at the Denver, CO airport I received a call from UPS. Something to the effect of, “We have your shipment here and we need some additional information about it.” Was not a good feeling to know it was stalled along the way. I worked feverishly to both call and email the necessary “missing” information – basically, they just wanted a description of the what was in the box. Yet another reason to sweat. I wouldn’t feel good until I received a confirmation that it’s in the hands of Cinelab in London.

Unlike digital formats where a backup is possible. If this film gets lost or damaged in transit, that’s it, it’s over. Gone. Lost forever. No returns, refunds, exchanges, do-overs.

Thankfully, a couple of days later I received confirmation that the film was received.

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S8: 22 – 7 Take Care, Tar Creek (An Occurrence at Tar Creek)

An Occurrence at Tar Creek

Location of the rock dam incident.

Saturday, June 11 was quite a long day. We went from shooting at various film locations, to the interview, and then back to shooting more locations. The idea really was to complete the entire film shoot in a single day. After all, it’s only 200 feet of film in the cartridge and at 18 frames per second (fps) that’s just 3 minutes and 20 seconds! How long could it really take? My thinking was that I would have more than enough time to shoot two rolls of film. But turns out that I barely had enough time for even a single roll. Not because of any one thing, but because each shot takes time to set up and there’s travel time between locations, and then there’s waiting around time, so on and so forth.

Later in the day we were to meet Rebecca Jim and her son Dana at a location along Tar Creek near the Miami Nursing Home. An odd thing happened while we were there. At the time, my son and I were waiting in the car for our guests to arrive so we could film them. I’d noticed these two boys with loaded-down bikes ride by and head down towards the Creek. I thought it odd because knowing that the water is highly toxic it didn’t make sense to me that they’d be going down there to fish or play. I let my son know that I was going to walk down and scout it out, maybe get a shot or two of the water while we waited. When I walked down to the access point, just beyond the trees, in the center of the Creek, stripped down to their shorts and digging around for rocks in the water, were the two boys. What were they looking for, I wondered? Crawdads maybe. But it couldn’t be, there was very little, alive in this water. They didn’t see me and I didn’t really make myself known – I just went about my business. But it did strike me as odd and at the same time, thought maybe this would be good for the film, so I pointed the camera in their direction and pulled the trigger for a few seconds.

A few minutes later, one of them must have seen me. By then I’d decided to pack up and wander back to the car. They seemed quick to get out of the water and get dressed. It was one of those uncomfortable situations where I sort of felt like starting up a conversation but at the same time didn’t have a great vibe about the whole thing and decided not to ask any questions.

Back at the car parking area and Jim and Dana arrived. I shared the story about the boys and a surprised look came over Rebecca’s face. “Where are they, what did they look like, what were they doing?” she asked. Apparently I’d stumbled into an ongoing issue and caught two kids red-handed that were doing something they were not supposed to be doing – and I had it on film! As was explained, these same two boys had dammed up the Creek last season to create a swimming hole. On top of the toxic metal levels in the water, the water became stagnant and concentrated with dangerous levels of bacteria. In addition, all posted signage had suspiciously been removed by “somebody.” The authorities got involved including the Grand River Dam Authority and the Corp of Engineers because, among other things, it is illegal to dam up a flowing waterway – not to mention one that is already highly toxic and not to be swam in. It took the authorities and volunteers months to dismantle the make-shift dam. Rebecca later relayed that she’d encountered the same two boys some time ago, one of them had an axe on his bike, one of them was carrying a holster firearm of some kind.

It wasn’t but a few minutes before Rebecca was on the phone reporting the incident, her son was documenting the area where a few rocks had already been moved into place to create the beginnings of a new dam. And then Rebecca was wading into the water to topple the stones, and remove rocks from the river. “Aaron, come down here and take these,” she said. Immediately, I found myself following orders and helping to ferry stones from the Creek to the hillside.

In the distance was my son digitally recording the live action.

As things finally settled down we were able to re-focus and get back on track with filming. I captured the one or two shots and we moved on to the next location.

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S8: 22 – 6 Take Care, Tar Creek (The Interview)

The Interview

Rebecca Jim in the office of LEAD Agency, Inc.

Back at the LEAD Agency office at 12:00pm to meet with Executive Director, Rebecca Jim. She gave us a full tour of the home-office, which felt like a combination library, history center, and art studio. We shared some stories and I handed her a copy of my decades old thesis work. (As a side note, was nice of her to ask about it, it’s rare that anyone has any interest in my old scientific research.)

My son and I worked together to set up the audio recording device (used an H1n Zoom portable recorder device) – just propped up on a tape dispenser. I’ve done a few interviews but this one was already going to be different than ones before. Through previous correspondence, both email and over the phone, I’d expressed that, if possible, I’d like to use her voice, her words, as the narration. I’d written a script – or at least pieces of one – as a guide but I didn’t necessarily want her to read from a script. I wanted this to be an interview. But an interview as if I was speaking with Tar Creek. In other words, I was essentially asking if she could be the voice of Tar Creek. A tall order in some sense, and something that might make someone uncomfortable, or even unsure about how to approach such a request. Was this acting or was this an interview?

Rebecca then asked me a question, “Do I have your permission to speak for her?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. Who was I to give permission? But then I supposed that the question was posed to put me in a similar position as she felt, that we were in agreement that this would be the arrangement, and so I answered that, yes, she had my permission.

Her voice softened, her mood changed, and she spoke from the creek’s perspective. The best I can describe it is that she was channeling what she felt the area and the creek would have felt – not just at one point in time but at different points in time along the way. We were time traveling through history and Tar Creek, as spoken through Rebecca, was guiding us. It was meaningful, and powerful, and heartfelt. And sometimes I felt like the questions I was asking were disjointed, and unclear, and messy. And I was wishing that I was doing a better job in asking the questions but still, we were moving forward and carried along, as if by the current of the Creek itself. At the conclusion she said that the whole experience was very touching for her, and that it was difficult. And I could tell that it difficult. And listening back over the audio the intensity comes through. In total the interview was about 38 minutes long.

To sidestep just a bit, in terms of the technical aspects of the recording I was worried. The room was not great for sound quality. There was loud truck traffic right outside, her voice was very quiet at times, and all the while I was worrying that the recording just wasn’t going to turn out.

After we left the interview and went back to filming the rest of scenes I expressed to my son that I was nervous about the sound quality. He insisted I take a moment and listen back to it, just to check, otherwise I would be worried about it the rest of the day. It was good advice because once I heard the recording I realized that, while there would be some editing, and filtering, it was going to be useable.

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S8: 22 – 5 Take Care, Tar Creek (Production)

Moving Towards Production

I was excited to get going with shooting the film. I coordinated, at a moment’s notice, to drive to the site the following weekend. But as the day neared closer part of me realized I wasn’t fully prepared. Then as the weather forecast materialized it became apparent that this chosen weekend wasn’t going to work anyway. In retrospect, it was a good thing that the shoot got delayed a week. It gave me time for more preparation, more planning, and additional clarity.

When the time came, I was able to talk my son into coming with me. it’s about a 3-4 hour drive from my home up to NE Oklahoma. Along the way we talked about the plan, the film, and all the possible scenarios.

The thing about shooting a film “the Straight 8 way” is that, no matter how much planning you do, there is always the possibility for error. Unlike other films/videos where you can go in “in post” and fix it, there is no possibility of that with this type of film. If it is in frame when you are pulling the trigger, it’s on the film. No matter what. If it’s out of focus, if it’s too dark or too bright, if the lens cap is on, if your “talent” misses the take – that’s it! No retakes.

That feeling, knowing that the opportunity for error is always present, and yet you still have to proceed, to the best of your ability, to capture what you want, how you want it, and get to a watchable end product…well, that is both nerve wracking and incredibly exciting at the same time.

You can have the entire film in your head, or you can have your mind clear and shoot on-the-fly. I have to admit, I do a bit of both.

It was good to have my son there and fun to work with him. In spite of the long drive, the hot Oklahoma summer conditions, and all the little nit-picky details of setting up each shot, timing it, and document it, he was steadfast. I’d go so far as to say, he might have been having fun, at least for a little while. His was there to record me filming each shot – for timing purposes. He was there as a chemical element character in some scenes. He was there for the audio interview recording session. Overall, he did a great job and I was happy and thankful to have him there.

Principle Photography

Shooting of the film took place on June 11, 2022. On the way into town, a funny thing; we passed an onion semi-truck that had some kind of malfunction with its trailer and lost its entire load of onions on the two lane blacktop. Traffic was backed up in both directions and the local fire department was spraying the remnants of squished and smeared onions from the asphalt. The pungent sulfuric odor of onion lingered in the air.

View of Tar Creek access point.

We arrived in the town of Cardin at about 11:20am after the long drive. We drove to an area I’d previously located on Google maps days before – I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but had in mind all the elements of the shot. It didn’t take long and we were setting up along the side of the road, chat pile in the background, a barbed wire fence, and an old relic of a sign. So began this non-stop day. Following is the shot list I wrote down – in order of appearance. Times are an estimate based on my own count as I recorded.

Shot list - in order of appearance

Started at 11:20am - Cardin, OK

5 sec - First shot S8 ID# on barbed wire fence
5 sec - Barbed wire, chat hill background
5 sec - U.S. No Trespassing sign 
(*At this point went back the LEAD Agency bldg to meet Rebecca for the interview. Picked up these following shots later, after interview and lunch.)
8 sec - Pan shot of chat pile 
5 sec - Concrete mine structure 1
5 sec - Another concrete mine structure 2
5 sec - Active mining equipment
>>May be 2-3 individual random frames captured here.
8 sec - Close up of chat material
5 sec - Picher water tower
5 sec - Picher-Cardin memorial sign
5 sec - Picher Gorilla mascot memorial
5 sec - Close up - Summit in Yellow (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Summit - same shirt - at abandoned gas station at State Line
6 sec - Summit in Orange (Cd) shirt - abandoned structure/pillars
5 sec - Long shot of abandoned bldg - “Keep Out
5 sec - Close up of same bldg. with Keep Out more visible 
5 sec - Close up of water in foreground - fish?
5 sec - Summit on chat pile (shirt color?)
5 sec - Long shot of chat pile
5 sec - Quapaw sign on fence
5 sec - Tar Creek - water flowing at E Street/Miami Nursing Home access
5 sec - 2 kids in the water moving large concrete/rocks
5 sec - Rebecca at Tar Creek in pink (As) shirt
5 sec - Daniel at tar Creek in red (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Summit at Tar Creek in Yellow (Pb) shirt
5 sec - Aaron at Tar Creek in Orange (Cd) shirt - filmed by Summit
10 sec - Bridge over Tar Creek at Rockdale location
?? - Rebecca downstream shot
?? - Rebecca and Daniel facing camera together in shirts
?? - Water barrel close up at LEAD Agency garden
?? - Rebecca watering garden
?? - Summit back of shirt with title “Take Care, Tar Creek on shirt” follow-shot past a Lead Free Yard sign into the garden

Drove home.
At Tar Creek location.

As noted in the shot list, we’d only just begun the film shoot portion when the time came that we needed to go back to Miami to the LEAD Agency office to meet for the interview.

*More about the interview in a future post…