Moun­tain fest sobers up over pipe­lines


The Georgia Straight - - Movies -

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.”-

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