There’s one shot from Land of Oil and Water that keeps playing in my head. It’s of a woman gathering up a handful of a disturbing grey web covering her lawn. This is what is left behind afer the spring melts the polluted snow: the emissions from the oil mines near Fort McMurray, Northern Alberta. There are some stunning aerial shots of Alberta’s lush muskeg, but the devastating effects of the open-pit mines and their tailing ponds steal the scene in this topical Canadian documentary directed by Warren Cariou and Neil MacArthur. It premiered at the DOXA festival on Friday and is just right for types who like a little learning in their diet. The film brings us the voices of the Dene, Metis and Cree communities affected by the mines. Some residents talk about the influx of jobs and the resulting wealth and pride; others are planning a blockade. Everyone agrees the mines themselves are a disaster.
I have to confess, the night before I went to the screening, I was looking up the gargantuan equipment used in the mines, hoping to see some in action. I was pretty excited by the sheer magnitude of the things. They're like apartment blocks on wheels. I learned that Canada has the largest dump trucks in the world, able to carry 400 tons. I also learned that we have passed Saudi Arabia as a supplier of oil and petroleum products to the U.S. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Then I was embarrassed and humbled when I was reminded during the film of the effect the mining has had on the existing Metis, Cree and Dene communities that make up the majority of the population inhabiting the region near the super-mines Suncor and Syncrude.
This documentary doesn't set out to tell us the whole story of the oil sands; it is instead dedicated to giving a voice to an isolated people. In co-director Neil MacArthur's words, “the reason you make a film like this is to start a dialogue.” Land of Oil and Water speaks up in what is becoming an increasingly heated conversation for us as Canadians.
Take-home message: educate thyself! We need to be paying more attention to what’s going on up there in our great oily north so we can act with our dollars down here. We have a voice in what we choose to buy, but we have to know first what we want to say.
A shortened version of the film (15 minutes) will be a part of the World Wide Short Film Festival later this month in Toronto.
This is an aerial photo of Laloche, a small, peaceful town of under 3,000 in Northern Saskatchewan being scouted for a future oil mine. It is currently surrounded by muskeg and forest. Imagine how the area will change after the development.