Saturday, May 09, 2015

movie review: Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand
(Canada, 2015)
directors: Tomas Borsa and Jean-Philippe Marquis

Line in the Sand is a feature-length documentary about the how communities in northern British Columbia and Alberta have responded to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The proposed pipeline would traverse the northern part of British Columbia and part of Alberta, carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), a toxic, tarry substance, across pristine wilderness to tankers just off the coast of BC, near Prince Rupert.

The pipeline has been controversial for many reasons, including concern about its safety, its possible effect on the environment, and the way it would cross traditional First Nations territory. Borsa and Marquis interviewed ordinary people from communities along the proposed route to ask how they feel about it and why. (You can check out their "Line in the Sand" blog here.)

They start out in Alberta, where they talk to farmers who have entered into agreements to let pipelines cross their land. These farmers have discovered the hard way that the pipeline companies have a great deal of unexpected control over the land once they are on it: for example, they have sued farmers for "trespassing" on their own land. These are the same companies who pay a lump sum, trash the land and render it unusable, then leave a huge mess for the farmers to take care of. The toxicity of what the pipelines transport have left animals dead and with birth defects. However, the companies have no legal obligation to rehabilitate the land, find less toxic ways to do business, or compensate the farmers. Do they have an ethical obligation? The farmers think so.

Borsa and Marquis are personable (they were at the screening I attended in Prince George at the College of New Caledonia, and gave a Q and A for the audience afterwards) and it shows in the natural, expressive interviews they managed to get with regular folks along the proposed pipeline. In the film, one person after another speaks candidly and with passion about what their community and the landscape mean to them. We see beautiful shots of northern British Columbia that help someone who has never been here understand what is at stake. We hear from researchers and scientists who describe the potential risks of the pipeline and the repercussions if there is a spill. There are a few people who speak in favour of the pipeline, but they are outnumbered by those who are against it. (The filmmakers were asked at the screening I attended whether they had sought out people who were in support of the pipeline and they said they had, but the number of people who are in favour of the pipeline in the film is representative of the number of people they found who were willing to do so.)

There is much blunt talk about Enbridge's incredibly poor track record regarding pipeline integrity and spill response. Some of the most arresting footage is from a man who worked on the Kalamazoo spill cleanup--Enbridge fired him after they discovered he had secretly filmed cleanup workers being directed by Enbridge to simply cover up spilled oil with a layer of sand.

The filmmakers interview many First Nations people about land rights, self-governance, and the uncomfortable relationship between large and powerful companies and small, economically depressed First Nations communities.We see large protests against the Northern Gateway and smaller acts of defiance--one series of shots shows a number of colourful handpainted signs in one First Nations community on the pipeline's proposed path.

To me, the main theme of this film is larger than just the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. The filmmakers wisely show us not only the actions of Enbridge to coerce and bully communities into accepting the pipeline--they also dig deep into the federal government's attempts to paint any opposition to the pipeline and similar projects as anti-Canadian, anti-patriotic, and, most frighteningly, as "radical eco-terrorism."

Watching Joe Oliver denounce those who speak out against the pipeline--and watching the charade that was the Joint Review Panel "consultation" process--simply highlights the need for the Canadian public to educate themselves not only about the potential effects of the Northern Gateway project but also the effects of a federal government bent on stifling opposition with swift brutality and little regard for the democratic process.

Overall, this is an excellent documentary. The cinematography is gorgeous, the issues outlined clearly, and the filmmakers wisely let the residents of northern Alberta and northern BC speak for themselves about why they have chosen to draw this particular line in the sand.

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