I worked one summer rating the roads and public buildings in small, northeast Oklahoma towns. While measuring a dusty road in Picher, I was surprised to find that the road stopped at a sinkhole. I could drive no farther. I had played baseball in Picher in middle school, in Commerce during high school. I parked in the middle of the road, and stepping nervously out of my truck, and I stood with my mouth open. This place didn’t make any sense. Gray mountains of crushed ore stretching skyward, a hungry, brown sinkhole crawling toward my front bumper. I was standing on ground zero of the biggest environmental disaster in the country, 25 miles from my front porch. And I had never heard about it. This is where the story began for me.

I was an aspiring writer at the time and my boss that summer made me promise to write about this place. I had tried it a few different ways over the years—even published an essay about it in an Oklahoma literary magazine. But words just don’t do it. The plot of Tar Creek is unbelievable enough, but this landscape you just have to see to believe, if you even can. So in late 2006, when the federal government finally declared this place unfit for people, I knew the story was moving away, box by box, and a thunderbolt struck for me to get moving or this story would be gone for good.

What happened from that thunder strike to completed film is a stream full of curves and white caps: from great people warmly revealing their secrets to scientists explaining their findings to a contentious buyout, all on the most belief-suspending land you’ve ever laid eyes to.

A lawsuit to get the citizens a fair value for their homes is going swimmingly and mine waste is being hauled away at record pace, and now our aim is to screen TAR CREEK in as many of the 1600 Superfund communities as possible through our Superfund Screening Tour. Every Superfund Site has much in common with Tar Creek, and I’d love to coordinate a screening of TAR CREEK at your local theater, church, museum, conference, school, or organization. Use our story to inform your people and your situation no matter where it lays on the Superfund quilt, and keep your homes and land from being declared unfit.

— Matt Myers

About the Filmmakers

Director Matt Myers grew up a few miles from Tar Creek and worked in the Superfund Site during remediation. He did his undergraduate work at Oklahoma State University where he met Watermelon Slim and took in his shows at the local pubs. In April 2007, he moved back to his boyhood home of Vinita, OK to begin filming. The project took three years to complete and wrapped one month before the last citizen moved out of the Tar Creek Superfund Site. Matt is a published author and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. He owns and operates Colorado Ski Authority and other web properties. TAR CREEK is his first film.

Producer Tanya Beer first saw the Tar Creek disaster while she worked for the Environmental Institute at Oklahoma State University in the summer of 1998. Tanya is married to Director Matt Myers (and daughter of Executive Producers Ron and Cara Beer), and she produced TAR CREEK from the film’s base camp in Denver while Matt was in the field. Currently serving as the Associate Director for The Center for Evaluation Innovation in Washington, D.C., Tanya holds a bachelor’s in English and communication studies from Drake University and a master’s in public administration and international relations from Syracuse University.

Oklahoma residents for 30 years, Executive Directors Ron and Cara Beer have spent their lives in education and as community activists. Ron served as Vice President for Student Affairs at Oklahoma State University for 20 years; Cara directed OSU’s Volunteer Center and ecumenical campus organization. Ron and Cara volunteer at the Stillwater Habitat for Humanity and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and have done international volunteer work in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mexico. Their interest in environmental issues and the impact they have on local communities is of special importance to them; their work on Tar Creek is a natural extension of their environmentalism and commitment to community empowerment.

Robert Billings graduated from the Brooks Institute of Photography in 1972 and has traveled the world as a cameraman and DP for the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Thomas Gilcrease Museum, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among others. Billings’ work has received a Cine Golden Eagle Award, First Place at the International Travel Film Festival, the Gold Medallion from the Broadcasters Promotion Association, and awards from Eastman Kodak Company and the Oklahoma Associated Press.

In December 2006, Blues legend Watermelon Slim garnered a record-tying six Blues Music Award nominations for Artist, Entertainer, Album, Band, Song, and Traditional Album of the Year. Only B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray have ever landed six. His 2006 self-titled release was ranked #1 in MOJO Magazine’s 2006 Top Blues CDs, won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Blues Album of the Year, and won the Blues Critic Award for 2006 Album of the Year. Rave reviews of Slim’s work can be found in Guitar One, HARP, Blues Revue, Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, House of Blues Radio Hour, BBC’s World Service Programme, and XM Satellite Radio, among others.