Trailer via Downstream on Babel (website)
Earlier this month, the National Geographic's visually-stunning and critical article on the Alberta tar sands caused a firestorm of negative publicity for both the Canadian government and the multi-billion dollar industry responsible for what some call the "most destructive project on Earth."
It got pretty ugly. And it could potentially get uglier with the online release of Downstream, a new film that brings home the harsh realities of communities affected by the tar sands. Though the film is on the shortlist for documentaries nominated for an Academy Award in 2009, it caused a "big stink" in the Alberta legislature because it was partially funded by the Alberta Film Development Fund.Impact of tar sands on local communities downstream
Directed by Leslie Iwerks, the short documentary (available here) gives us a glimpse into the lives of Dr. John O'Connor and his patients of the isolated community of Fort Chippewan of 1,200 - situated some 140 miles downstream from the tar sands on the Athabasca River.
Soft-spoken but clearly a man of dedication and integrity, in 2006 Dr. O'Connor brought his concerns about an abnormally high rate of rare cancers and lupus in the community to the Alberta Medical Association, only to be formally charged by Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Alberta Health for "raising undue alarm", among other dubious charges which were eventually dropped.
The film presents a compelling case. Despite the Alberta government's claims to the contrary, there is something changing for the worse downstream from the tar sands. The residents of Fort Chippewan, who depend on the land for sustenance, wild game and water, have observed alarming changes in their food supply in the last decade.
Independent experts brought on to conduct studies have found dangerous levels of arsenic and mercury in the water and in local fish populations — which might explain some of the sores and deformities found on them.
Albertan government shoots itself in the foot
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the documentary's making was the fact that the Alberta provincial government - strong cheerleaders for the Alberta tar sands industry - actually funded $67,000 of the film though its Alberta Film Development Fund. The fund gives money to films that use Albertan technicians or producers.
"Even though all the projects come to me for my final signature, you get a couple of lines as to what that film is and we're looking at now how do I get more information about it because — oh, it's a film about Alberta, it's a film about the oilsands — but who knew what it meant at the time?" said Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett.
"Because if I'm going to actually invest money on behalf of Albertans into a film, the whole idea is to show Alberta in a better light, to create an economic diversification to help them, so anything that's going to be negative is only going to be a negative impetus on this province".
All right - we'll take that as oversimplified bureaucratic sound bites - but how about telling that to the Albertans in this film who are living downstream and who have already been brushed off by the government?
The film is being hosted by Babelgum, an independent Web TV service, on their environment channel, "Our Earth". A public screening will be hosted by Olivia Chow (MP for the New Democratic Party) on April 14th at Bloor Cinema in Toronto.
More on the Alberta Tar Sands
National Geographic Slams Tar Sands — Canadian Politicians Pissed
Obama Admits Canadian Tar Sands' Carbon Footprint a Problem (Phew...)
Duck Death Toll Triples to 1606 at Alberta Tar Sands Site
Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth
A Picture is Worth... The Alberta Tar Sands
Tar Sands, Banking Crisis & Peak Oil - Mired At The Crossroads
Tar/Oil Sands Industry Readying Public Relations Campaign
Alberta rethinks film funding rules after anti-tar sands doc gets cash, Academy award nomination (Oil Sands Truth)