Five days after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig in April 2010 killed 11 oil platform workers, the Laguna Beach marine artist was in a boat in Gulf of Mexico waters off the Louisiana coast, surveying the environmental fallout.
"I wanted to see it for myself; I wanted to see it first-hand," Wyland said in an interview. "We were all in shock, to be honest."
The artist had hoped to travel to the offshore location of the Deepwater Horizon, but he and fellow conservationists, who wore gas masks as they traveled, never made it as far as the rig. Oil-polluted water seeped into the boat's engine, causing the vessel to break down, Wyland said.
His anger in witnessing the calamity's aftermath drove him to put down the bones of his own music, which led him on a journey with legendary musicians to New Orleans and the blues-soaked environs of the Mississippi Delta. And out of that experience, Wyland created "Blues Planet: Sounds," a 44-minute documentary that he directed and will debut at the 13th annual Newport Beach Film Festival.
The film, which Wyland has entered in the Music Film category, is one of four with connections to beach towns along the Orange Coast whose world premieres will occur at the festival.
According to festival officials, "Blues Planet: Sounds" is also one of 19 films with broader ties to O.C. that will screen at the film fest, which was to open Thursday night. The screening of Wyland's film is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa.
Other films to look out for
Another water-related film will make its world premiere at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at the Regency Lido Theatre under the adrenaline-pumping rubric of Action Sports films.
"A Decade of Dominance," a 66-minute Australian and American film directed by O.C.'s Brent Deal, tells the story of paddleboarder Jamie Mitchell's dominance of the Paddleboard World Championships. The perilous race takes place annually across the Kaiwi Channel, the 32-mile wide body of water between the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu.
Other films under the Action Sports category with O.C. ties include "H2IndO" — also directed by Deal — "Manufacturing Stoked" as well as "Crusty 16 — Outback Attack," a film produced by a Huntington Beach company.
At 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, a darker film, "Behind the Orange Curtain," will make its world premiere at Triangle Square. The festival's catalog describes the 86-minute documentary by Brent Huff about the national problem of prescription drug abuse as a film that examines "the record number of young, privileged teenagers who are dying of drug overdoses in Orange County, California."
The fourth film with O.C. connections making its world premiere is the romantic comedy "Shanghai Calling," which will close out the festival at 7:30 p.m. May 3 at the Lido. Daniel Hsia, the film's director and writer, is also from Orange County.
The festival will also feature two films with Newport Beach-specific connections: "Stories from an Undeclared War" is a documentary about Newport native Erin Gruwell, the Long Beach Unified schoolteacher whose "Freedom Writers Diary" book inspired the 2007 feature film with a similar name. The cast of the short film "Mr. Nakamura's Addiction" also includes local actor Joseph Newcombe.
Wyland's foray into blues
At last year's Newport Beach Film Festival, MacGillivray Freeman Films, a Laguna-based film production company, recognized Wyland and the rest of a team behind the film "This is Your Ocean: Sharks" with its Special Achievement Award in Environmental Filmmaking.
Wyland's latest film is the first he can call his own. He plans to enter two other installments in the three-part "Blues Planet" series respectively in next year's Newport Beach Film Festival and the one in 2014.
After the aborted boating expedition to the Deepwater Horizon, Wyland said he isolated himself and composed 60 songs about the disaster and marine pollution.
The Laguna artist, who is famous for his scattered murals depicting ocean life and his painting of the original whale tail design on California license plates, and who has developed a multifaceted career in which he's doubled as a conservation activist, said this was noteworthy because he was neither a trained musician nor an amateur one.
He showed his songs to his friend, the blues great Taj Mahal, who was impressed. That led to the so-called Wyland Blues project, whereby Taj Mahal and some 40 other blues musicians fine-tuned, jammed and recorded 48 of Wyland's songs at New Orleans' storied Piety Street Studios, which he filmed.
"The emotions just came out into this music," Wyland said, referring to the feverish seeds of his musical and visual ode to the world's oceans, wetlands and waterways.
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