Vancouver filmmaker Damien Gillis takes aim at Enbridge pipeline in Oil in Eden

By Matthew Burrows, Georgia Straight, February 11, 2011

When local filmmaker Damien Gillis took his equipment up to B.C.’s north and central coast and got to witness firsthand the humpback whales swimming freely, he almost got a lump in his throat. And that’s hard to do to the burly 31-year-old who looks like a rugby forward and has a baritone voice made for broadcasting.

“I love this province, and my primary function is to serve, through my media work, to highlight issues that I see as being the biggest threats to the environment and public interest in B.C.,” Gillis told the Georgia Straight by phone on February 10. “Along with [long-time radio broadcaster] Rafe Mair, through our new organization [Common Sense Canadian], we are touring the province and really talking about rivers, salmon, and oil tankers and oil pipelines.”

It is the last two on that list that make up the subject matter for Gillis’s thought-provoking 17-minute documentary short entitled “Oil in Eden: The Battle to Protect Canada’s Pacific Coast”, which will screen this Sunday (February 13) at the World Community Film Festival at Langara College.

The film details the issues involved in building the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, B.C., where oil supertankers would load and ply coastal waters off the province’s Great bear Rainforest for the first time. For people who can’t make it to the WCFF screening, “Oil in Eden” will screen at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival on Wednesday (February 16) at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre (2300 Lonsdale Avenue). A discussion will follow, with speakers from pipeline opponents at Pacific Wild, Sierra Club B.C., the Gitga’at First Nations, and others. (Tickets are $18 in advance or $20 at the door.)

Through his strong narration, Gillis explains in the movie that the area he visited is home to orca, humpback whales, wild salmon, wolves, grizzlies, and “the legendary spirit bear”, which is found only in that region.

Gillis and others believe that this place is now threatened by a Enbridge’s proposed project. Oil in Eden reveals the majestic places and vibrant cultures at risk from the proposal and the opposition to it. He said that calling it a battle that is “Bigger than Clayoquot”—as shown from a Globe and Mail headline featured in the movie—is accurate.

“That [headline] was a quote from a press conference that the Coastal First Nations put on when they announced their declaration against the pipeline back in April last year,” Gillis said by phone. He later said:“If that company continues to want to bulldoze this thing through against their will, and then you factor in all the environmental groups and all of the citizens that are concerned about this, I think it is shaping up to be a title fight here on a number of different levels.”

In an earlier interview with the Straight, Enbridge spokesperson Gina Jordan claimed that the company had 60 years of experience building pipelines.

“We intend to continue to do that,” Jordan told the Straight at the time.

Although Enbridge was one of 50 winners of the “Canada’s Greenest Employers” title for 2010, the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute estimated that—using the company’s own statistics—Enbridge pipelines were responsible for 713 spills between 1999 and 2009, contaminating the environment with 21.3 million litres of hydrocarbons.

Regarding the proposed Northern Gateway project, Gillis said he cannot reconcile the “incredible wilderness and challenging terrain” the tankers would have to navigate. “When I try to imagine what a VLCC [very large crude carriers] tanker with a million point whatever barrels of oil loaded on it going up Douglas Channel [would encounter]—I’ve flown over it and I’ve gone by boat, all up and down these very places where the tankers would be plying—I just can’t imagine how we would do this safely,” Gillis said.

Gillis said he hopes he can encourage enough people to join in opposing the proposed pipeline, adding that he believes the project will be stopped, as it is a bad time to be selling the merits of a pipeline to a suspicious public, especially following the Gulf of Mexico spill last year.

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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