VIFF Films Shine Light on Environmental Gems

Larry Pynn,
The Vancouver Sun
October 3, 2011

Several years ago I canoed a white-water river in northern B.C. so achingly beautiful and unvisited that I made a pact with my paddling buddy — also a journalist — never to write about the place.

And then I find myself screening environmental entries in the Vancouver International Film Festival and watching as filmmaker Frank Wolf wades across the very same river — the Murray, flowing past Tumbler Ridge — where the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would go.

A northern pipeline can seem a vague and distant concept until something like that makes you take notice. But that is what Wolf does in his 70-minute documentary, On the Line, one of 27 environment-themed films playing at this year’s festival.

He brings into sharp focus the people and landscapes that would be affected if Enbridge gets the go-ahead to run bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands 1,170 kilometres to a tanker terminal at Kitimat on B.C.’s north coast.

Pipelines leak. Enbridge made that point itself when 3.8 million litres of crude oil spilled from one of its aging pipelines into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River last July.

So do ships. Alaska’s environment has still not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez tanker spill of about 40 million litres of crude oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.

But pipelines and ships are also part of the economy — and it is ultimately for society to determine whether the environmental risks of either are just too great.

On The Line presents two very different views on that point.

“In Alberta, I must say, there are lots of pipelines all through our lands,” comments Tam Andersen, whose Prairie Gardens and Adventure Farm in Bon Accord, Alta., would be impacted by the pipeline. “The world demands oil and we’re certainly not prepared to give up driving. We’re not prepared to live without heat in our homes.”

In contrast, Smithers fishing guide Tony Harris neatly sums up the fears in our province: “Alberta is oil and gas country and B.C. is ... wild water, wild fish country and we’d kind of like to keep it that way.”

Of course, we know where Wolf and his friend Todd McGowan stand on the issue, as they bicycle, hike, raft, and kayak for 53 days, keeping as close as possible to the planned pipeline route — which traverses 773 watercourses — in an attempt to show audiences what’s at stake.

“It’s going to go somewhere,” Wolf says of a spill. “And it’s going to be bad.”

Enbridge is not quoted in the film, but company spokesman Paul Stanway told me that while the pipeline generally runs about a metre underground, it would dip to 30 to 100 metres beneath rivers. Technology and environmental sensibilities have changed, he emphasized, and the Murray would not become another Kalamazoo.

Other films include the 75-minute Sushi: The Global Catch, filmmaker Mark Hall’s fascinating look at an industry whose popularity is having dire environmental consequences. Hall looks at the exacting tradition of sushi preparation in Japan before revealing how the increased global expansion of sushi — in Vancouver, of course, but also in countries such as China — is pushing stocks such as bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction.

Meanwhile, Charles Wilkinson’s documentary, Peace Out, is a thoughtful and incisive examination of the price paid by B.C.’s Peace River region for southerners’ boundless thirst for energy. The 80-minute film makes an important contribution to the debate over BC Hydro’s planned Site C dam.

On the Line (Canada): Thur., Oct. 6, 7 p.m.; Tues, Oct. 11 1:45 p.m.; all Empire Granville.

Sushi: The Global Catch (USA): Sat., Oct. 8, 3:15p.m.; Mon, Oct. 10, 7 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 14, 6 p.m.; all Empire Granville.

Peace Out (Canada): Tues, Oct. 4, 6 p.m.; Thur., Oct. 6, 3:20 p.m.; all Empire Granville.

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All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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