Mountain fest sobers up over pipelines
> BY ADRIAN MACK
Zack Embree sounds like a traumatized man when he talks about Fort Mackay.
“It’s very sobering,” he says softly. “First Nations are typically at the frontline of resource extraction and environmental degradation, and that long history of exploitation hit me in the face when I went to Fort Mackay.”
Just north of Fort Mcmurray, amidst Alberta’s bitumen-mining operations, this tiny hamlet on the Athabasca River is one of the sacrifice zones of the tarsands.
“People there are surrounded by trillions of litres of toxic water,” Embree continues. “They transform the boreal forest, which is a massive source of fresh water and oxygenation, and scrape it to the side, turning it into scorched-earth sand dunes and toxic tailing ponds surrounded by cannons to scare away the birds. It’s like sci-fi up there. The air is heavy with the smell of oil; the people have rare cancers and illnesses—it’s a very difficult place to be.”
Embree’s interest in the impact of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project is what prompted the visit to Fort Mackay. The roving filmmaker (helped by Vancouver codirector Devyn Brugge) went to Alberta, New Brunswick, and even Paris during a five-year mission to produce Directly Affected, a remarkably comprehensive doc on the dire costs of Canada’s mutation into “energy superpower”.
The Vancouver-based Embree spoke to the Georgia Straight by phone just one week after Suncor Energy Inc. announced its plan to replace some 400 tarsands workers with driverless trucks—so much for the persistent myth of more jobs—and three days after Justin Trudeau hit a spectacular wall of pipeline opposition during a town-hall meeting in Nanaimo.
“It’s become clear that he’s continuing with a corporate agenda, except with hugs and teddy bears and shirtless photo ops,” says Embree, whose film begins by contrasting Trudeau’s PR effort at the Paris climate talks in 2015 with the National Energy Board’s dizzyingly antidemocratic approach to pipeline expansion. (“It’s a sham,” Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart states in the film.)
The doc goes on to examine the economic, social, and environmental catastrophes that await, while making the case for clean-energy solutions and signalling its faith in citizen resistance.
Beautifully shot and effective, the film premieres at North Van’s Centennial Theatre on Sunday (February 11) with David Suzuki and the director in attendance as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. Embree will be at a second screening at the Cinematheque next Friday (February 16).
It’s the perfect venue for Directly Affected. The title refers to newspeak used by the NEB to bypass community concerns about a substance that could, in the probable event of a spill, make parts of Vancouver uninhabitable.
“We have a duty to stand up for the life force of this Earth that supports us,” Embree says. “So if the Mountain Film Festival is about the human spirit experiencing nature, performing incredible feats, and overcoming incredible challenges, then I think that the challenge that we face in terms of climate change is our Everest right now.”-