Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

H2Oil examines the tar sands

H2Oil examines the tar sands
By John Griffin, Gazette Film CriticNovember 27, 2009

If Peter Mettler’s Petropolis sings the awful, awesome Alberta tar sands aesthetic, Shannon Walsh’s H2Oil maps its skin, muscle, bones and blood.

Mettler’s ravishing tone poem played last month’s Festival du nouveau cinéma.

Walsh’s comprehensive, damning examination of the environmental and human cost of extracting energy in Northern Canada was worthy of an honourable mention in the Ecocamera section of last week’s Rencontres documentary festival, and opens here commercially Friday, Dec. 4.

“It’s been a pretty big couple of weeks,” the 33 year-old Montreal resident understated over lattes on the Plateau this week. “The film had a packed local opening at Rencontres, I made the cover of Hour, and I successfully defended my PhD thesis.”

Walsh should be the person we love to hate. Dauntingly bright, thrillingly articulate, the kind of multi-tasker who finds time to make a complicated feature while earning a doctorate in anthropology and education at McGill, she’s also passionate about a wide range of topics and stimulating to be around. She’s pretty much the whole package.

“It’s really amazing to me that, even as we live in an important time for the planet, documentaries are devolving into the ‘follow the crazy man’ trend,” she said after an opening salvo about Facebook, self-absorption, privacy and alienation.

“We’re edging towards a hollowness of content, where nothing is more substantial than entertaining ourselves with the stories of our own lives. What does it take to engage in the issues of the day?”

Fossil fuel will do nicely. Without getting into the whole thing – see the movie for that – Alberta is sitting on a whole mess of oil that

hasn’t been worth digging up till now.

It’s not like it just blows up out of the ground like the Beverly Hillbillies’ bubblin’ crude. It’s all mixed up with a lot of other stuff and has to be separated. One of the extraction processes involves four barrels of heated fresh water for every barrel of oil shipped to the U.S.

The abused water is dumped into tailings ponds so large they can be seen from space and so poisonous residents in downstream Fort Chipewyan are reporting elevated levels of rare and scary cancers.

Walsh’s point is: At a time when wars are fought over oil and water is an increasingly sought-after resource, which is more precious? What price are we prepared to pay in the future for our unsustainable standard of living now?

H2Oil gives us the macro picture of a project larger than the Pyramids or Great Wall of China. It then homes in on ecologists, and the “just close friends” relationship between the federal government and the oil industry.

It also targets illness among our First Nation people in Fort “Chip” and our pie-in-the-sky belief that somehow technology will get us out of the sticky situation technology put us in.

“It’s absurd that we’re in this place, said Walsh. “It’s scientific fundamentalism. What are these guys smoking?”

Looking at the glass half full, “we’re at a point where we realize the world is made and unmade by human action. A lot of people are quietly quitting their jobs in the oil sands out of moral indignation. They’re concerned about the environment, water, and sickness.

“We need to move in the right direction, and change will only come from a collective grassroots. There are people who do something and people who do nothing. We

either fight or lie down.

“When I first started this project I was so depressed.

I thought we were screwed. But the more I saw, the more I believed we could stop it, or slow it down. We just need to find the switch that will get people to act.”

That switch could well be H2Oil.

H2Oil opens at Cinéma Parallèle, 3536 St. Laurent Blvd. Friday, Dec. 4. For more info, log on to www.h2oildoc.com.


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